Advocates for higher minimum wage celebrate past success and look ahead

Pub date February 7, 2014
SectionPolitics Blog

Balloons, snacks, cake, live music, an open wine bar and nearly 100 guests marked a Thu/6 celebration at the Women’s Building in San Francisco’s Mission district. You might never guess a party this fun would be held to celebrate the birthday of a city ordinance.

February marks the 10-year anniversary of San Francisco’s minimum wage ordinance, passed by voters in 2003 with Proposition L. The landmark initiative not only raised the minimum wage in San Francisco to $8.50 per hour, but stipulated that the amount would rise every year to reflect inflation. Thanks to Prop. L, San Francisco now boasts the highest minimum wage in the nation, at $10.74.

But being the nation’s highest still isn’t enough.

“Who thinks living in San Francisco is really expensive?” asked one of the event organizers and staff member of the Chinese Progressive Association, Shaw San Liu. All hands in the room shot up before the Spanish and Mandarin translators even had a chance to repeat the question.

Raising the minimum wage in San Francisco has been a hot topic recently, and Mayor Ed Lee even endorsed a significant increase back in December. The number that keeps floating around is $15 per hour, but nothing has been set in stone.

In addition to celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the minimum wage ordinance, Thursday’s event was also the official launch of the Campaign for a Fair Economy, a push to support the city’s lowest-paid workers and close the ever-growing wealth gap.

Raising the minimum wage is only part of the campaign, and advocates are also fighting for accountability from large chain businesses, stricter enforcement of existing labor standards, and expanding access to jobs for disadvantaged workers.

“San Francisco has led the way for employment policies in the past,” said Kung Feng, lead organizer for Jobs With Justice, a group that fights for workers’ rights. “We need to continue that.”

To say that San Francisco is leading the way is no understatement. In addition to having the highest minimum wage in the country, SF was also the first place in the U.S. to mandate paid sick leave, and the Health Care Security Ordinance works to guarantee medical benefits for all workers in the city.

Despite San Francisco’s long legacy of championing workers’ rights, there is still a tough battle ahead. Currently, minimum wage in the city automatically goes up every year to match inflation (on Jan. 1, 2014, it rose from $10.55 to $10.74). Any further increase requires voter approval.

While it seems a higher minimum wage does have strong support and has already been endorsed by major political figures, there’s still a powerful lobby against it from some businesses and restaurant associations. Despite the upcoming battle, advocates seemed optimistic.

“Who in here can tell me the significance of the Year of the Horse?” Liu of CPA asked the audience, referring to the ongoing Lunar New Year. A small woman sitting in the front row excitedly responded, “Maa dou gung sing!”

“Success comes in the horse year,” Liu explained. “And this will be a year of success and accomplishments for workers rights in San Francisco.”