Higher wages and tenants’ rights, for the win

Pub date February 11, 2014

As we document in this week’s cover story, a citywide coalition has sprung up to fight for tenants’ rights in the face of mounting evictions and soaring rents, and momentum on this issue is steadily growing.

But that isn’t the only sign of a newly invigorated movement that’s beginning to count its victories and advance forward on behalf of tenants, workers, and thousands of San Franciscans who are less focused on turning a quick profit and more concerned with bringing about positive change. Last week brought several high notes on this front.

Citywide legislation that will limit discriminatory practices by employers and housing providers by reforming background check policies won initial approval at the Feb. 4 San Francisco Board of Supervisors meeting.

Introduced by Sup. Jane Kim, the Fair Chance Act is part of a “ban the box” movement, backed by local grassroots organizations that came together to champion the rights of individuals who’ve encountered barriers to improving their lives due to past convictions that have left them with a permanent stigma.

At the meeting, Kim mentioned a woman who’d been told she “need not apply” for a job working as a cook — because of a simple shoplifting conviction from when she was in high school. The ordinance will require certain employers and housing providers to refrain from criminal history checks until after an initial job interview, and would make certain kinds of information off-limits, such as arrests that never resulted in a conviction.

Meanwhile, an initiative to curb height limits on waterfront development amassed enough signatures last week to qualify for the June ballot. That effort grew out of a successful referendum last November against the 8 Washington project, a key pushback where San Francisco voters rejected luxury condominiums at the ballot.

The Chinese Progressive Association and Jobs With Justice held a celebration last week to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the passage of the city’s minimum wage ordinance.

While it remains the highest in the nation, San Francisco’s 2014 minimum wage of $10.74 an hour still isn’t enough to make ends meet, so allies of low-wage workers are launching the Campaign for a Fair Economy to push for a higher minimum wage at the ballot and to implement a higher wage standard for major retailers and chain stores.

There remains much to rail against, to be sure. A Craigslist ad for a $10,500-per-month two-bedroom apartment in the Mission generated a barrage of angry commentary from those who read it as doomsday for the historically Latino area, especially since the tone-deaf author used the word caliente to describe the neighborhood.

But the start of 2014 has already delivered some promising victories for progressives, and many have their sights set on even greater horizons.