March 23, 2019
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Cotati considers $15 min. wage

By: Joshua Farestveit-Moore
March 1, 2019

The Cotati City Council directed its staff Tues., Feb. 26 to reach out to local businesses as part of a wider consideration to implement a new city wide minimum wage. 

Up to this point Cotati hasn’t had a localized minimum wage. They rely instead on the state one, which stands at $12 an hour for companies with more than 26 employees and $11 an hour for companies with fewer. The state minimum wage is set to rise by $1 every year until 2023 when it hits $15, but for some that may be too slow. 

A presentation put together by the North Bay Jobs with Justice and the North Bay Labor Council proposed to ramp up the time table. They’d like to see the minimum wage within Cotati go up to the $15 an hour level by July of 2020. 

“I think it’s a critical issue,” Councilmember John Moore said. “To me that seems like the cost of doing business. If we can try to accelerate this—get that economic output and what it’s going to generate a couple years sooner? I think it could be a tremendous offset.”

The problem with the current minimum wage level is that living expenses in Sonoma County have far outpaced the moderate growth in income. 

Between 1979 and 2016 the inflation-adjusted wage for the bottom 20 percent of the workforce dropped by 11 percent; Sonoma County’s minimum wage workers are making less now than they were 30 years ago. Over the same time period, housing costs in Sonoma County have skyrocketed. There’s been a 35 percent jump in rental prices since the 2017 Tubbs Fire alone. 

Therefore, minimum wage workers are squeezed from both sides—rising expenses and falling wages. The twin problems have left many workers crippled by their monthly bills. Twenty-five percent of Sonoma County’s renters pay more than 50 percent of their income for housing and that leaves them reliant on state and federal programs like Food Stamps and Medicaid. 

This system creates a twisted form of incentive where government programs allow workers to labor below livable wages, effectively subsidizing companies that employ large quantities of unskilled workers.  “If somebody works 40 hours a week and still needs public assistance then it’s really the employer that’s getting that benefit,” Political Director of the North Bay Labor Council, Madd Hirshfield, said. “I always say that if your business plan can only succeed by underpaying your people then you need to take another look at your business. That’s just crazy to me.”

Yet a rise in minimum wage doesn’t come without cost—least of all to the employer. When San Jose lifted their minimum wage back in 2012 by $2 it led to an average price hike of 1.45 percent for local restaurants. This is of course on top of the added expenses incurred by enforcing the new law, which Cotati will have to swallow if it decides to go through with the hike. 

For some that’s a price they’re willing to pay and it’s easy to see why. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, every $1 dollar rise in hourly wages leads to $2,800 more in spending by the worker’s household. For people living on the edge that money can mean the difference between a roof and the street. 

Still, there’s a lot to consider. The Cotati City Council opted to take the slow and measured route. 

What we decided tonight is that we want to bring this back. We took no action,” Cotati Mayor John Dell’Osso said. “Sure, there’s an interest there, but I really want to talk to the business community so they have a clear understanding of what it means. I think just throwing it out that we’re going to speed up the process of raising the minimum wage—there’s just not enough information there.”

The next scheduled discussion for the potential rise in minimum wage will take place March 27 at the city’s Strategic Planning Meeting. Citizens who would like to voice their opinion should contact city hall.