This year, the Bay Chapter took the historic step of supporting local campaigns to raise the minimum wage in several of its member cities. Bolstered by President Obama’s call to raise the federal minimum wage, recent attempts by state legislators to do the same in California, and the successes of “Raise the Wage” campaigns in San Francisco and San Jose, a broad coalition has emerged around this issue in the East Bay. Many leaders within the Sierra Club have supported “Raise the Wage” campaigns in Richmond, Berkeley, and Oakland, writing letters to and speaking in front of city councils and participating in strategy meetings. A strategy meeting hosted by the Bay Chapter earlier this summer drew nearly forty representatives from labor, communities of faith, and progressive organizations.
In June, the Chapter Executive Committee voted to support all campaigns to increase the minimum wage within its member jurisdictions. This decision is in line with the Club’s commitment to sustainable communities and the goal of curbing carbon pollution, because when workers can afford to live in or near the cities where they work there is an aggregate reduction of sprawl and greenhouse-gas emissions. The ExComm decision also demonstrates solidarity with workers and other organizations that support this important issue, such as the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, Bend the Arc, and Tax the Rich.
Although “Raise the Wage” campaigns in the East Bay called for a minimum wage of $15/hour, the city councils of both Richmond and Berkeley ultimately passed watered-down resolutions featuring more modest wage increases and a number of exemptions. This suggests that placing an initiative directly before the voters may be a more effective way to raise the wage. In Oakland, the Sierra Club recently signed on to a November ballot initiative supported by coalition partners that raises the wage from $9 to $12.25/hour. Meanwhile, a business-aligned coalition is currently lobbying the Oakland City Council to place a competing measure on the ballot that would phase in minimum wage increases over three years and exempt certain employers.
As strategy discussions continue around the Oakland campaign and next steps for Richmond and Berkeley, we welcome participation from Sierra Club members. To get involved, contact Bay Chapter Vice Chair Igor Tregub at itregub at gmail.com.
—Igor Tregub, SF Bay Chapter Vice Chair