Commission votes to enforce living wage

OAKLAND, Calif. – After three months of stalling on carrying out the mandate of Alameda County voters, the Oakland Port Commission voted Aug. 6 to require that eight rental car companies and about 100 other firms at the port must pay a living wage. County voters approved by 78 percent a measure to adopt a living wage of $9.45 an hour with health benefits, or $10.87 without.

The Commission’s vote took place at a meeting packed with over 100 supporters of the living wage ordinance.

The crowd, mobilized by the Alameda Central Labor Council and the East Bay Alliance for Sustainable Economy (EBASE), included many rental car workers who had been working for $7.50 an hour and testified about having to work two jobs and put in many hours of overtime in order to survive.

Rafael Hernandez was one such worker who told the Commission, “Eighty percent of my wages from two jobs went to pay the rent on my small apartment in Oakland.”

The rental car companies had raised legal questions based on their month-to-month leases at the airport, which they claimed were signed before the ordinance went into effect, but the Commission ruled that the ordinance superceded previous leases and ordered their executive director to cancel all month-to-month leases and renegotiate contracts to comply with the ordinance.

The ordinance requires companies with more than 20 employees and contracts of at least $50,000 with the port to pay their workers a living wage. Some of the car rental companies have threatened to sue the Commission for breach of contract, but the Commission and its attorneys agreed with the statement of its Director of Social Responsibility, Bernice Reagan, that “After careful review it seemed appropriate to strengthen the intent of the law.”

Following the victory, the ordinance supporters held a brief rally in front of the Port Commission building. At the rally, all who had contributed to the fight were acknowledged by the cheering crowd. Those acknowledged included Amaha Khasa, co-chair of EBASE, Judy Goff, leader of the Alameda Central Labor Council, Odus Hall, representing Teamsters Local 70, Richard Mead, president of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10, and many others.

The author can be reached at ncalview@igc.org