A Thanksgiving Story

Produce at the Berkeley Bowl MarketHere’s a Thanksgiving story.

Last night as I was doing my Thanksgiving-meal shopping at my local grocery store (The Berkeley Bowl) I met a very nice young-adult low-wage worker who was bagging my groceries with me. Her name is Emily. We talked about how busy it was at the store, how hard she worked, and a little about how tired she was. I put my onions and yams in the bag, she handled the olives and capers. I wondered at the beauty of my organic tomatoes as she bagged up the bread.

Feeling particularly grateful for the bounty of my purchases and for the workers who made it all possible, I then shared with her that soon, if we were successful in our minimum wage political organizing, that her wages would be going up to at least $10.75 an hour—maybe as early as next March or April.

She was so excited! She could hardly believe it and asked me to tell her about what we were doing!! I filled her in on the details of the campaign we had been building for almost a year in Berkeley; how we’d been successful last year in raising the wages for 70,000 families in San Jose; how we’d helped put an extra $4000 a year in the pocket of each working person; and how despite all of the predictions of business collapse and economic disaster from the San Jose Chamber of Commerce, San Jose’s economy still seems to be humming along just fine, while working people have more money to feed their families, pay their rent, put clothes on their backs and to make their lives more livable and less stressful.

raise the wage photoAs we finished up with the groceries, Emily told me that she worked 8 hours and at the end of her long and busy shift she earned just $70—before taxes. I then looked at all of the groceries I was buying (total bill= $107.58). I looked at all of the hundreds of shoppers going through the lines and began multiplying their bills and calculating how much money the store must be grossing….

Then Emily asked me, as if what I had told her was just too good to be true: “Is the minimum wage really going to go up?” And I responded that if we did our work well, then, yes, we would win. I told her that the City of Berkeley Labor Commission was going to consider the new minimum wage law on December 11 at the North Berkeley Senior Center and I invited her to come to the Commission to tell her story. Then she shared with me that December 11th was her birthday. What a wonderful gift it would be, she thought, if the Labor Commission would vote to send a minimum wage increase to the City Council.

So, as I prepare my thanksgiving dinner, I’ll give thanks to Emily and all of the working people who make our daily bread possible. And if I could just ask one thing from the rest of you if you have the time– could you show up to the Labor Commission, speak out, and help us give something back to all of the Emilys of the world.

What: Berkeley Labor Commission meeting on the minimum wage
When: Wednesday December 11, 7 PM
Where: 1901 Hearst Street right (at MLK), Berkeley

Minimum Wage Increase is Long Overdue

Four years ago this week, we saw the federal minimum wage rise to a meager $7.25 an hour.  The state minimum wage has been stuck at $8.00 for five years. For a full-time worker, this amounts to just $16,640, far below the national poverty level for a family of 4 ($23, 550), much less a living wage in the Bay Area.

Over the past three years, our Raise the Wage movement has talked with thousands of Bay Area voters about this issue. When asked if they support an increase in their city’s minimum wage to at least $10 an hour, raise the wage photooverwhelmingly people say “yes!”  On street corners and at grocery stores, there’s excitement and support. In community college classrooms, it’s not unusual for us to sign up every single student as a supporter, with many volunteering their time, labor, and personal resources to the cause. Last November in San Jose, fully 60% of voters in this politically moderate city said “yes” to an increase to $10 for all workers—despite being bombarded with hundreds of thousands of advertizing dollars predicting doom and catastrophe if the measure passed.

Why such overwhelming support? Because average voters have a basic sense of fairness.  They understand that people who work hard and play by the rules should make a decent living.  They understand that the challenges of small and local businesses cannot be solved by squeezing our most vulnerable workers to do more with less. They understand that when you give a raise to a low-wage worker, most of that money goes right back into the local economy.

If you listen to the naysayers, you would believe that poverty is simply an impossible problem to address. But if you talk to the 40,000 working people in San Jose who now have $4000 a year more to spend supporting their families, you’ll hear a different story. You’ll hear about having more money to put food on the table, to pay their rent, and to put gas in their cars so they can get to work and school.

We have already proven that we do not have to wait for some distant and watered-down solution from Sacramento or Washington. We can lead the way right here in the Bay Area to provide a high-road model to economic development and anti-poverty measures.

Last April the Berkeley City Council took an important first step when Mayor Tom Bates introduced a resolution directing the city manager to draft an ordinance that would 1) set Berkeley’s minimum wage at $10.55 an hour; and 2) build in an automatic cost-of-living increase pegged to the region’s consumer price index. This was a bold measure that matched the progressive values of this city. Mayor Bates’ measure passed with a unanimous vote of the city council. Now, the city’s citizen labor commission is studying the issue, receiving public comment, and preparing its recommendation for council action. A vote could come as soon as this fall.

Today (Wed 7/24), we are rallying to encourage the Berkeley City Council in its high-road path in raising the minimum wage. Please join us at 5:30 PM at the downtown Berkeley BART station.

How We Can Raise the Minimum Wage in Berkeley, Oakland, or anywhere else. Now.


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Here’s a great story about how we can make elections matter and how in the last three weeks we got quick and important victories on the road to raising the wages of working people in the East Bay. Tonight I … Continue reading

Why the November elections matter… YES on Prop 30 and San Jose’s Measure D; NO on Prop 32

Why does the election matter this November in California? Because the real problem with our economy is that the richest 1% have steadily been robbing the rest of us by reducing the amount they pay in taxes while pulling in an ever greater share of all of the income earned in this country. In 1977, the top 1% was taking home about 7.5 % of all of the income in California. They were doing pretty well and many were working hard. So maybe good for them.
But, by 2007, this same 1% was taking home closer to 24% of all of the state’s income. Now, I’m a real believer in work hard and earning rewards, but it’s not like the top 1% were working especially harder than the rest of us in 2007 and at the same time, their taxation rates didn’t go up at all. In fact, on both counts it’s been the opposite as working people picked up multiple jobs just to make ends meet while tax rates on the wealthy fell dramatically.

The graphic here demonstrates just one way in which we can understand the decline in our country’s tax base and why we are having so much trouble paying our public bills for schools, pensions, parks and social services.

Right here in the Bay Area, we can now do something about this problem. Vote YES on Nov 6 for CA’s Prop 30. This will raise billions in taxes to pay for schools, social services and public safety, almost all from people in the top 1%. Vote YES on San Jose’s Measure D. This will raise the city’s minimum wage from $8 to $10 per hour, raising the standard of living for tens of thousands of San Jose families.  Finally, Vote NO on Prop 32, another millionaire power grab aimed at silencing the voices of working people and giving millionaire’s free reign to pour $ billions into elections without being challenged.

Yes, we can!

A Win for Equality and Solidarity at Peralta!

I’ve been on the Peralta Board for over 7 years now. I’ve worked on many issues on many fronts– often successfully, and sometimes with less progress.  One issue, however, that I have always come back to is fighting to give all of the students in our District an equal chance at a good education regardless of which campus they attend.

When I was first elected in 2004, I found that the funding per student at both Laney College and Berkeley City College (BCC- but then called “Vista College”) was significantly lower than the district average. This meant much longer lines for financial and counseling, more difficulty getting classes from core faculty members, and dramatically bigger work-loads for the employees on each of these two campuses. Continue reading