Minimum effort in Sacramento minimum-wage debate

The mayor’s hand-picked task force announced its much-anticipated minimum-wage plan last week. The take home from last Wednesday’s press conference was that “nobody got everything they wanted.” But the reality was that low-income workers were the losers.

And now, the city of Sacramento gets to play guinea pig, at the behest of restaurant and chamber-of-commerce interests.

How we got here: Activists and union workers banged the $15-an-hour drum, and loudly, for about a year. Nationally, Democrats got on board for some kind of wage bump, and Mayor Kevin Johnson followed suit, wrapping his arms around the issue. In May, he launched a task force, whose members included all sorts of stakeholders, to investigate the impacts and benefits. The group dropped its proposal last week: incremental pay bumps through 2020, the end rate being $12.50—a wage lower than what was passed in nearby Bay Area burg Richmond.

The proposal is a nice win for business owners of all stripes. But the bigger issue pertains to a “total compensation” clause in the city’s proposed ordinance.

Total compensation basically allows business owners to not bump the minimum wage for workers who receive other financial benefits, such as tips and health care. That means Joe Employee earning $10 an hour won’t get a pay bump to $12.50 if he gets tips or other benefits from his employer that amount to more than $15 an hour.

Unions call this move illegal. City leaders in Los Angeles and elsewhere have shot similar moves down. Yet Sacramento appears poised to be the legal lab rat when it comes to this carve out, pushed hard by the California Restaurant Association.

That’s unfortunate: Why must Sacramento trailblaze on this?

It’s also worth noting that the city’s proposed minimum wage could possibly be outdone by a new state minimum in five years. It’s not a likelihood, but it’s possible.

It’s nice to see any kind of pay bump for workers. But this latest proposal feels like minimum effort.