Community-labor coalition cheers minimum wage ordinance in San Diego

SAN DIEGO — A coalition of San Diego citizens and unionists cheered a 6-3 City Council vote on August 19 overriding the Republican mayor’s veto of a city-wide minimum-wage increase and paid sick days ordinance.

The ordinance would allow a worker up to 40 hours of paid sick leave yearly, starting next July 1. And it covers all workers, not just municipal workers, those whose firms hold city contracts, or only firms over a minimum size. But workers must give firms advance notice of need for the leave, and document the need if it’s more than three consecutive days.

It also raises the city minimum wage to $9.75 hourly on January 1, $10.50 on Jan. 1, 2016 and $11.50 hourly on Jan. 1, 2017, before indexing it to inflation in following years. California’s minimum wage rose to $9 hourly on July 1, more than the $7.25 federal minimum.

The San Diego ordinance is part of a national movement pushing to raise the minimum wage and enact paid sick leave, city by city and state by state. The movement, which began with a San Francisco citywide minimum wage hike in 2007, isn’t waiting for the GOP-hamstrung, gridlocked U.S. Congress to raise the nation’s minimum wage.

At least 217,000 minimum-wage workers in San Diego would see a pay hike via the ordinance, while approximately 260,000 would become eligible for paid sick leave. Most are in retail and restaurants, the two lowest-paying sectors of the economy.

But even as the San Diego Labor Council hailed the new measure, it warned – as did the city council chair who led the pro-raise majority – about an underhanded petition to undermine it. The Chamber of Commerce and other business interests are trying to nullify the new ordinance even before it takes effect next July by putting two initiatives concerning those issues on this November’s ballot.

“The council has now done everything in its power to advance this common sense measure and promote the economic security and success of San Diego’s working families, businesses and economy. The ordinance should be allowed to take effect next year as planned,” said Debra Ness, executive director of the National Partnership for Women and Families, which pushes such laws in cities, states and on Capitol Hill.

The ordinance covers all workers, public and private, who toil in San Diego, California’s second-largest city. With 1.22 million people, San Diego is among the nation’s largest cities.

“When businesses do not pay a livable wage and do not allow workers to earn and use paid sick leave, the community and taxpayers pay associated costs” for tax-funded services such as hospital emergency rooms and city homeless shelters, the new ordinance says.

To help poor and ailing San Diegans, the ordinance provides all workers with one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours of work during the year. It limits paid sick leave to 40 hours, though. Workers can carry over unused paid sick leave, year to year.

The National Partnership for Women and Families reported the ordinance would give each minimum-wage San Diego worker a $1,400 yearly raise, starting Jan. 1. But business interests are trying to halt it, City Council President Todd Gloria warned.

“If any petitioner approaches you during the next 30 days saying they are collecting signatures for Minimum Wage or Earned Sick, don’t be fooled. They are being paid by special interests to get rid of the Earned Sick and Minimum Wage Ordinance,” he said in an open message posted on the web site of the grass-roots coalition Raise Up San Diego. That coalition and unions pushed the ordinance through.

“Big-money, out-of-town special interests are spending at least a half million dollars to take away earned sick days and the San Diego minimum wage. These petitioners are paid per signature. They can and will say anything to get you to sign. If they approach you, there’s only one thing you need to remember: Don’t sign it!” Gloria added.

“Nobody who works hard at a full-time job should live in poverty or worry about taking care of their family. San Diego’s new minimum wage law will increase the earnings of hard-working San Diegans, helping them pay their rent, put food on the table, and support their families,” Raise Up San Diego added.

“The law also gives workers the ability to take care of their sick kids or parents by using days-off they have earned by working hard. But now, a group of area businesses – with funding from out-of-town corporations that don’t want to pay employees fairly – is trying to repeal our minimum wage and earned sick pay law with a deceptive petition. Don’t sign it!”

Photo: From the America Needs a Raise Bus Tour, March 25. Eric Blumrich/PW




Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People's World en Washington, D.C. Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.