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San Jose State Students Campaign to Raise City’s Minimum Wage

| February 16, 2012
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SJSU student activist, Elisha St. Laurent, is among the first to sign the petition.

SJSU student activist, Elisha St. Laurent, is among the first to sign the petition. (Peter Jon Shuler/KQED)

San Jose State University students kicked off their petition campaign Thursday for a ballot measure to raise the city’s minimum wage from $8 to $10 an hour.

Elisha St. Laurent is a senior studying behavioral science and sociology. She says that as a single mother of a 5-year-old boy she takes the campaign personally.

“You’ve got all the odds against you,” St. Laurent says. “But I keep continually fighting for what I believe in and that’s an education. But at the same time, living on minimum wage, I am not adequately making enough to provide for my son.”

St. Laurent, who was among the first to sign the petition, says it’s nearly impossible for someone earning minimum wage to live in Silicon Valley. She thinks it’s significant that students created the petition.

“It’s all about social action,” St. Laurent says. “We are the people. We need to speak out and become leaders. It’s not one person speaking out. It’s all of us collectively speaking together.”

The students point to San Francisco’s $10.24 minimum wage for inspiration. But Vice President Pat Sausedo of the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce favors a statewide approach to raising the minimum wage rather than doing it city-by-city.

“San Jose isn’t San Francisco,” Sausedo says, pointing to San Francisco’s relative isolation from neighboring cities and its preeminence as a tourist destination.

Sausedo adds that raising the minimum wage would put the city at a competitive disadvantage — especially among small and mid-sized businesses which have yet to feel the recovery.

“They could well lose business,” she says. “They would have to pass their increased cost onto their customers and this ultimately would be a disincentive to people shopping in San Jose.”

The city clerk certified the petition Wednesday night, but students have been working on it for more than a year as part of a class project in civic action. They need to gather more than 19,000 valid signatures by May 15th in order to get a measure on the November ballot.

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