Congressional action to raise the minimum wage may have stalled, but a grass-roots campaign to lift basic pay is picking up steam at city halls and state legislatures — and probably heading to ballot boxes.
Cities nationwide, including San Diego and Seattle, are considering passing ordinances or facing ballot measures that would raise the minimum wage to $10 to $15 an hour, well above the federal rate of $7.25.
The efforts mark an important strategic shift in the campaign to raise the minimum wage. Though efforts in Congress to boost the federal minimum wage to $10.10 haven’t died, they have faced fierce lobbying by opponents.
So labor leaders and community advocates are instead turning their attention to cities and states that have the power to raise wages on a local level.
“Urban areas tend to be more sympathetic” to raising the minimum wage, said Ken Jacobs, director of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at UC Berkeley. “What we have seen are cities and counties work as laboratories of democracy.”
Recently, labor and progressive groups said they turned in enough signatures in Oakland, Calif., to put an initiative on the November ballot to raise that city’s minimum wage to $12.25 an hour.
Organizers plan to do the same in nearby Berkeley and Richmond as they push the latest twist in their strategy of going local.
Richmond had been on the verge of approving a hike this year to $12.30 an hour, but the local Chamber of Commerce slowed the process, arguing that the ordinance would kill jobs and force businesses to move.
Such a boost in the minimum wage could raise living standards in the industrial city of 100,000, where nearly one in five of the predominantly minority residents live in poverty.
Richmond’s proposed ordinance now includes several exemptions — for waiters and other tipped workers, those under 18 and nonprofit employees. The last-minute changes have irked labor and community activists, sparking their decision to take the fight to the voters.