A group of over 50 people gathered outside Mountain View City Hall Wednesday to call for a pay raise for the city's poorest residents.
The rally was organized by Josh Wolf and other residents interested in seeing the city raise its minimum wage from the California standard of $8 an hour. That could mean following the lead of San Jose, where voters approved a raise and regular increases almost a year ago. Minimum wage is now $10.15 an hour there.
Signs held by protesters painted the picture succinctly. One said, "My rent went up! We demand higher ages!" and another said, "CEOs make 273 times the average worker." Another sign pointed out two numbers -- $2,128 and $1,280 -- the first being the average rent in Santa Clara County and the second being the monthly salary of someone making $8 an hour and working 40 hours a week.
Mountain View City Council member Margaret Abe-Koga spoke to the crowd, saying that she was a "strong supporter" of a minimum wage raise. "Honestly, I think we need to go to $15 an hour." She said she agreed with one resident who said it needed to be tied to a cost of living index to make sure it keeps pace with rising costs. "You are absolutely right," Abe-Koga said.
"When I see that 50 percent of the students in our schools qualify for free or reduced lunch, it is clear we have poverty in our community," Abe-Koga said.
Dennis Raj of the South Bay Labor Council said that if the minimum wage in 1968 had been tied to commonly used benchmarks for consumer prices, it would be $22 an hour today.
"I can tell you that of the 6,000 people who come to the CSA needing assistance every year, this is a very important issue," said Tom Myers, director of the Community Services Agency. "We live in an area where average rent is over $2,000. That is incredible." Some residents are "stringing two, three, four low-wage jobs together and that is not enough."
CSA's board has not taken a position on the issue.
There have been numerous raises to the minimum wage since it was created by the Fair Labor Standard Act of 1938, and there has been "no proof" that raising it has caused job losses, said Paul George of the Peninsula Peace and Justice Center, who also spoke about the history of the minimum wage. Organizers contended that it is a boon to the economy to put more money into consumer pockets this way. He added that "economic inequality is the great issue of our time."
President Barack Obama has proposed a raise to $10.10 an hour for the federal minimum wage in 2014. Whether Mountain View will have a higher minimum wage to reflect the higher cost of living in a city where average rents are now an eye-popping $2,362 a month remains to be seen. But given the interest at the rally, there may soon be a ballot measure to do just that. Wolf said in an email that the City Council may be asked to put such a measure on the ballot for the city's voters, as a deadline to gather signatures passed last October.
"The high cost of living in Silicon Valley suggests local cities should follow the lead of San Francisco and San Jose in setting their own standards," Wolf wrote.