A New Minimum Wage


An Update on the San Diego City Council Resolution on Minimum Wage and the Referendum Campaign to Challenge the Resolution 

By Timothy Hanna  Sept. 19, 2014

No one remembers the date September 17 as one of historical importance. This is not to say great things did not occur: armies raided and destroyed the Library of Alexandria, Boston was founded as a city, and the US Constitution was adopted in Philadelphia. It simply deserves mention that for most the date will pass without notice and so it was for the majority of San Diegans. For others, both in San Diego and beyond, this day was anxiously awaited.

In San Diego, September 17 marks the last day signatures can be submitted to secure a spot for a referendum on the June 2016 ballot. One proposed referendum, a measure to reverse a citywide minimum wage increase, has been the subject of fierce debate, as the hotly contested bid to overturn the City Council’s decision raced to gather enough signatures to reach the necessary 34,000 by the mid-September deadline.

The law subject to this contest was passed by the city council, a decision which outlined procedures under which the city’s minimum wage was due to raise to $11.50 by 2017.  The law was originally set to begin effecting local wages in January of 2015. All three of the City Council’s Republican officials voted no. Republican Mayor Kevin Faulconer agreed with this sentiment and vetoed the bill. The Democratic majority on the City Council overrode the Mayor’s veto. It was in this atmosphere, a Democratic City Council against a Republican Mayor claiming the support of the business establishment, that the stage for this contest was set.

The practical effects of the current movement are relatively simple, should the opposition to the minimum wage hike prevail the effects of this legislation will be postponed until the people vote in the 2016 election. According to the Union Tribune, Jerry Sanders, former San Diego Mayor and chief executive of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce stated that opponents to the wage increase gathered and submitted a little over 56,000 signatures, more than 22,000 over the minimum required to get the measure on the ballot.

Under law, those who signed the petitions had until 5:00 pm on September 17 to remove their names. Raise Up San Diego, a local organization dedicated to protecting the minimum wage increase operated a website, theyliedtome.org, which assisted voters who inadvertently signed these petitions. This is merely one of the means by which they sought to combat the coercive and deceitful practices, of which many accuse the paid signature gatherer. This included volunteers who would stand in the same area as a paid signature gatherer, disseminating their message to combat what they saw as tactics to confuse and manipulate voters into supporting their petition, without awareness of the true nature or effect of their action. The system, in which signature gatherers are paid by the amount of signatures they gather, is a system that certainly lends itself to abuse should a signature gatherer be both greedy and unscrupulous.

After submission, the Registrar of Voters will certify the signatures, ensuring that the persons who signed were indeed registered and authorized to vote in San Diego, as well as removing those who requested removal prior to the deadline. If at the end of this process those numbers exceed 34,000 the measure will be on the ballot.

Despite the likelihood this will see the ballot, June 2016 is a long time away. The sentiments of the voters at that time may be far different at that date than they are today. Nor does success necessarily reflect a united front of opposition to the minimum wage increase. A successful bid to find a place on a ballot may reflect more about the voter’s attitude to how the measure was passed, as opposed to how they feel about the law’s subjective aims. One of the opponent’s key selling points in gathering signatures was the idea that the City Council passed this measure unilaterally despite contention from the Mayor and three of their own members. Many San Diegans, reflecting on the role of local governance, may truly feel that such a situation merits a vote by the people as opposed to their elected officials. However, such a stance does raise the key question: why elect legislators if we do not trust them to legislate in our interest? In another light, have the people not already spoken in their selection of their representatives, why should we not trust their duly elected representatives to represent them?

The substantive issues both for and against a minimum wage increase were certainly central to the signature gathering process. Those funding and organizing the opposition campaign, largely comprised of Republicans and certain members of the local business establishment argue that a higher minimum wage increase would not help the workers as it would merely increase the cost of goods, reduce the amount of hires for small businesses, or potentially make them move elsewhere. Local Democratic leadership, joined by labor organizers take issue with what they claim is an argument ad-absurdum, their argument centers on a living wage, that by increasing the wage we give a greater spending capacity to a large class of persons and introduce them as buyers into the market, eventually leading to economic growth.

There is little reason to doubt that the Registrar will find the opposition acquired the requisite amount of signatures, and as a result the legislation’s effects will be suspended until the citywide referendum in June 2016. Whether San Diegans will vote to overturn the law is far from decided though. Undoubtedly, the coming years will demonstrate San Diegans resolve, and though labor and local Democratic leaders may have lost this particular battle, the war is only beginning.

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