With no organized opposition in sight, Mountain View City Council members could adopt a minimum wage ordinance on Oct. 9. leading to a bump in pay for the city's low-wage workers.
Labor leaders and local activists are set to rally in front of City Hall at 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 9, before the City Council meets at 6:30 p.m. The Council may consider approving a draft ordinance based on San Jose's minimum wage ordinance, though it's unclear how much of a raise will be passed.
If a significant number of Mountain View businesses oppose a minimum wage increase in Mountain View, they have yet to speak up. City Council member Margaret Abe-Koga said she has seen no evidence of organized opposition to raising the minimum wage in Mountain View, even from the California Restaurant Association, the key opponent to the minimum wage bump in San Jose to $10 an hour, which was drafted by a San Jose State Sociology class and approved by 59 percent of voters in November of 2012. It went into effect in March 2013 and an automatic adjustment has since boosted it to $10.15 an hour.
University of California at Berkeley professor Michael Reich has been studying the effect of the minimum wage increase on San Jose and says restaurants were most affected, raising prices by 1.75 percent, on average, to compensate. Perhaps because of the ability of tech workers to pay higher prices, he says there was no discernible impact on employment from the higher wage. There's been a steady drop in San Jose's overall unemployment since it was at 8 percent in 2012 -- it is now at 5.5 percent. The number of downtown restaurants in San Jose increased by 20 percent in 18 months, the San Jose Downtown Association reported over the summer.
Among those working to mobilize supporters for the Oct. 9 meeting is the Service Employees International Union's Brian O'Neill, who is advocating a $15 an hour minimum wage for Mountain View, where the cost of living is higher than San Jose's, which would be in keeping with efforts to pass a $15 an hour minimum wage in San Francisco and Seattle. He says that many business leaders said the sky would fall before previous raises in San Jose and San Francisco but "dire circumstances never showed up."
"I think businesses are realizing this and realizing that maybe it is in their best interests," O'Neill said, because it puts money into consumers pockets. "(Low wage workers) spend every dime that they make because they have to. I'm hoping this is why they are not stopping it."
Psychologist Meghan Fraley, a leader of the local effort to raise the wage, is advocating a raise from California's new $9 hourly minimum wage to between $12 and $15 an hour. Community members largely supported a raise of over $12 an hour in a recent public input meeting on the issue hosted by city staff, and no one who spoke opposed a raise. A large majority of online comments on the city's website have also been in support of some kind of raise.
"It has become clear that there is a tremendous support from the community," Fraley said. "Most people do not think that $10.15 (San Jose's new voter-approved minimum wage) is enough. People believe the wage needs to be higher given the economic realities of our community. San Francisco and Seattle have some of the highest minimum wages in the country. Their economies are thriving, and ours will too."
The extent of the raise will be left up to the City Council to decide, which could happen at the Oct. 9 meeting. City Manager Dan Rich noted in an email that City Council members wanted the ordinance "based on the San Jose ordinance; so that is what we are doing. They could approve the first reading of the ordinance that night (on Oct. 9), or they could provide us alternative direction."
San Jose's ordinance includes a regular raise to reflect rising costs of living which has raised it to $10.15 an hour from the original $10. Even higher is San Francisco's $10.74 minimum wage, which could go to $15 an hour if voters approve a November ballot measure.
Some Mountain View business owners raised concerns anonymously in a survey by the Mountain View Chamber of Commerce, saying that it would lead to fewer jobs and higher prices. Some said it would jeopardize the financial health of their businesses. At least one business said the raises should be enacted state-wide, not by the city. At least two businesses said it would spur them to be more careful about hiring and retaining employees.
Of the 62 businesses surveyed, 72 percent supported some kind of raise to Mountain View's minimum wage. Only 23 percent said they wanted no increase at all. The remaining 6 percent chose "other" as their response.
"Small businesses have been hit hard on many sides: with rising costs of goods, now raising wages, and (in general) anti-business labor laws and practices in CA." said one business owner who responded the Chamber's survey. "Makes me wonder if I should go elsewhere to a more business-friendly city and state."
At least one business had a supportive comment: "Hiring good workers comes with a price. Lower wages mean lower quality workers and lower productivity. Higher productivity brings more business to companies, which in turn bring more revenue to the city."
Proponents say Mountain View's minimum wage should reflect the relatively high cost of living here.
"Studies show that we need to look at a range between $12-15/hour for folks to be able to afford to live here," Abe-Koga said. "I understand that Sunnyvale will be looking at the issue later in the month. I hope that we can set a new standard for a higher minimum wage in the region and encourage other communities to follow suit."