San Jose’s Measure D Would Raise City’s Minimum Wage 25%

By Peter Jon Shuler/KQED News

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In November, San Jose residents will vote on whether or not to become one of the few cities in the nation to raise its minimum wage above the state level. If approved, Measure D would raise the city’s minimum wage from the state floor of $8.00 an hour to $10.00. San Francisco has a similar ordinance on the books, currently mandating hourly pay of at least $10.24.

The roots of the initiative go back to San Jose State University students, who were struggling to make ends meet. Elisha St. Laurent is a behavioral science major and the single mom of a 5-year-old boy. She expects to graduate next June.

Alisha St. Laurent(left) signs a petition from Leila McCab (right) to raise San Jose's minimum wage at San Jose State. Photo by Peter Jon Shuler/KQED News

“I work at an electronics store and we make minimum wage there. So it’s definitely not an easy thing being a part-time employee and then a full-time student,” she says.

But many businesses have lined up against the measure, and opponents say they’re ready to spend more than a million dollars to defeat it.

That campaign has brought together some surprising allies. John Hogan is CEO of TeenForce, a non-profit group that helps foster-youth and other minors acquire work experience. So you might think he’d be in favor of raising their pay.

“Yeah, it’s probably ironic that I’m running a youth jobs program and I might be against this — which I am,” he says.

Hogan calls Measure D the wrong solution to a real problem. Although he thinks the minimum wage should be higher, he doesn’t believe it should be a a city-by-city decision. And he says it will create more obstacles for the kids his organization helps. “These more disadvantaged youth are the ones that are tending to start at the minimum wage and we’re going to have a harder time finding jobs for them,” he says.

Cindy Chavez is Executive Officer of the South Bay Labor Council, which is leading the campaign in favor of Measure D. She thinks opponents of higher wages are naturally going to put forward the most sympathetic faces, from disadvantaged youth to struggling mom-and-pop stores. She says voters should not be swayed, as the No campaign is mostly funded by major corporations trying to keep wages as low as possible. Chavez sees momentum building for the measure. She says, “At a gut level we all understand that people who live and work and play in this area and are trying to raise their families can’t live on $8.00 an hour in one of the most expensive places to live in the country.”

At the Good Karma Vegan Cafe, owner Ryan Summers says hearing about the measure inspired him to raise wages ahead of the November vote. But he understands why it has some employers worried.

“If you’d asked me two years ago if I would have been able to afford a pay raise for my employees, I would have said no way. And [the hard part is] small businesses just barely scrape by sometimes.” Summers says he increased salaries because he felt it was the right thing to do. “If you’re in a position to do something more for your employees and the community, I feel like you should.”

A poll of likely voters taken before the petition drive, conducted by the students, showed overwhelming support for raising the minimum wage. But retired San Jose State political science professor Terry Christensen says that was before the opposition had organized.

“All things being equal, people would be inclined to vote in favor of this, but all things will not be equal,” Christensen says. “There will be a strong opposition campaign that will be communicating, and I think they’ll have a credible message. So it’s going to be a real test of the campaign skills and abilities — and really reaching out to voters and persuading them.”

One of the contrasts, says Christensen, is that the Yes side will be largely a grass-roots, volunteer campaign, while the No campaign will be conducted primarily through the media.

  • C

    As a small business owner, raising the minimum wage by such a large margin would not only cause a problem amongst employees who work hard and deserve a higher wage. But, it would inevitably lead to the bankruptcy and end to my business among many others. The only companies that can afford to pay such high wages are ones which are already overcharging you for products or services. It would also not solve the problem, because then everyone would just raise prices causing the “living wage” to be higher and in turn causing another measure to have to raise the minimum wage again.

  • JS

    The minimum wage is really a training wage.(There is a lower training wage BTW but no one starts there) How is an inexperienced person to get job skills. It costs a business to train a new employee. Now when a new employee learns the job skills and becomes proficient at them, they become more valuable to the employer. A pay raise should be based on the experience and value of an employee. This gives an incentive for an employee to fully apply themselves. I hire quite a few entry level employees. Many have never had a job. They work through school, receive pay raises as they improve, and gain incredible skills for future endeavors.

  • Jay B

    They pass this, a lot of folks will lose their jobs … businesses that don’t have to be in the city may leave … many restaurants will fold … San Jose is already in trouble … Businesses that hire entry level minimum wage workers, that have given raises to workers will be forced to give raises to those already making $10 an hour or more …