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Council members push to hike minimum wage

Following a midweek kickoff rally, the Democratic majority on the San Diego City Council is working on a ballot referendum to boost the city's minimum wage and require that local workers be paid for their time off when they were sick.

The council members are still hashing out the details on the referendum, including a target level for the wage, specific rules regarding sick time and a plan for how the new changes should be phased in, Council President Todd Gloria said.

They plan to air their proposal at a special meeting of the Economic Development and Intergovernmental Relations Committee scheduled for 9 a.m. March 24, with hopes of adding it to the November ballot.

"The changes that we're recommending will boost our local economy," Gloria said in a rally Wednesday at City Hall in a pre-emptive rebuttal against potential critics.

Some business owners warn that if wages and benefits go too high, employers may scale back hiring or lay off workers. And the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce says the city could find itself at a competitive disadvantage against other cities with lower wage rates.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer said that even though he supports a raise in the national minimum wage, he worries that if the city increases its rate on its own, it could lose jobs to neighboring cities.

But Alan Gin, economist at the University of San Diego, said a higher minimum in San Diego would translate into less turnover among employees, meaning lower training and replacement costs for businesses, in addition to increasing the workers' spending power, which can create a rippling effect through the local economy.

California's minimum wage – which will rise from $8 per hour to $9 on July 1 and $10 in 2016 – is already higher than the federal minimum, but Gloria and other speakers said it does not cover the cost of living in San Diego.

To meet San Diego's standard monthly costs of housing, food, transportation, health and child care, a single worker would have to make at least $13.09 per hour, or $27,655 per year — slightly below the living wage salary of $29,999, according to a report released by last month by San Diego's Center for Policy Initiatives.

Gin added that since 1968, when the minimum wage was $1.65 per hour, its buying power has sharply declined. If wage growth had kept pace with the cost of living in San Diego County, he said, the minimum wage would equal roughly $13.87 today – "so even if it is lifted to $10 per hour, workers will have 20 percent less buying power than they would have had 45 years ago."

Maribel Sosa, who makes $8 per hour at Burger King, said she can barely make ends meet in the one-bedroom apartment she shares with her two daughters.

"If the minimum wage was raised, maybe I could afford things like health care or a car, but now if my daughters or I get sick, I can't afford to take time off," she said, adding that she tries to be "very careful" when going to work sick.

Surveys show that less than half of San Diego businesses offer paid sick leave, but the referendum would include a proposal to provide pay for time off, depending on how long the worker has been on the job.

"It's in the business' interest to have productive, healthy workers," said Councilmember Marti Emerald, adding that there's a risk of contagion when sick workers feel they have to stay on the job. "And as consumers, do we really want the person preparing our food in a restaurant to be sick, because they can't afford to take time off?"

State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzales introduced a bill in January that would require California businesses to provide up to 24 hours a year in sick leave — the equivalent of three eight-hour days — accrued at the rate of one hour for every 30 days worked.

The United States is the only industrialized country that does not require paid sick leave, but five states are considering sick-leave laws; New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, Ore., and Newark, N.J., as well as Connecticut have already adopted them.

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City of San Diego

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San Diego, CA 92101

City of San Diego Executive(s):

Sherri Lightner

  • Council President Pro Tem

Kevin Faulconer

  • Mayor

Todd Gloria

  • Council President

Myrtle Cole

  • City Council Member

Mark Kersey

  • City Council Member

Lorie Zapf

  • City Council Member

Scott Sherman

  • City Council Member

David Alvarez

  • City Council Member

Marti Emerald

  • City Council Member

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