University of California, Berkeley students have had strong reactions to the approval of an ordinance that will raise the city’s minimum wage to $12.53 by 2016.
While some hail its passage as a triumph for both the city and campus communities, others believe the new law will create obstacles to student employment.
The first of three increases, which will raise the city’s minimum wage over the course of several years, went into effect this month, bringing the city’s current minimum wage above both state and federal limits to $10-per-hour. In 2015, the rate will rise to $11-per-hour.
Many students supported efforts to raise the minimum wage as they emerged over the past year, as local businesses, labor unions and legislators met for public hearings and discussions.
“In a perfect world, a decent wage would be forced upon companies in order to keep their employees,” said Aidan Clark, a sophomore at the UC Berkeley. “But in a world where such an abundance of jobs does not exist, companies pay their employees less than adequate wages because they know that their employees don’t have the choice to simply walk out and go somewhere else. Minimum wage legislation ought to be passed and often raised because of the postulate that our job market is far from that utopia.”
The cost of living in the San Francisco Bay Area is notoriously high — currently, only 17% of Berkeley’s workforce lives in the city.
Caitlin Quinn, external affairs vice president of the Associated Students of the University of California, has called the wage increase a victory for students working off-campus and for recent graduates staying in the East Bay.
Yet some students argue that a small town like Berkeley — with a population of only 116,768 and many small businesses — should not spearhead such a campaign.
“This increase in Berkeley’s minimum wage is really dramatic, to say the least,” said Claire Chiara, a junior at UC Berkeley and president of the Berkeley College Republicans. “I think it’s absurd to believe raising the minimum wage this much will have no impact on student employment in a college town.”
Chiara believes that the risk that local employers will be forced to make cutbacks outweighs the benefit of an increased minimum wage.
“Low-skilled and unskilled workers — many of them are young people,” Chiara said. “For young people to have these minimum wage jobs, a lot of the time it’s their first job, or a temporary job. For them, the key aspect is not a wage, but simply to have a job on their resume and to be able to tell future employers, ‘I have employment experience.’”
The Berkeley College Republicans intend to take action on the issue in coming months, according to Chiara.
Proponents of minimum wage reform on UC Berkeley’s campus, meanwhile, have set their sights on their next goal: to bring about minimum wage increases across the UC system.
According to Shum Preston, a spokesperson for SEIU Local 1021, the city’s minimum wage ordinance does not affect jobs on Berkeley’s campus. Instead, raising the campus minimum wage would require lobbying with all other UC campuses at the statewide level.
With minimum wage efforts at several UC campuses, such a campaign is not an impossibility.
“Raising the minimum wage to a fair standard will certainly improve quality of life for those workers as well as strengthen local businesses, a worthwhile asset of any college town,” said Chloe Lessard, a senior at UC Davis. “For those students who work to support their studies, a fair wage has the potential to alleviate anxiety and make a tremendous impact on their academic life.”