4 San Diego City Council members push to raise minimum wage, allow sick days

SAN DIEGO - Four members of the City Council announced Wednesday they will try to place a measure on the November ballot that would increase the minimum wage in San Diego and allow employees to have five sick days.

Speaking to a rally attended by about 100 people, Councilwoman Myrtle Cole said no one should have to just scrape by if they work hard, or have to choose between putting food on the table or caring for an ill loved-one.

"Making the changes that we are recommending will boost our local economy and it will improve the quality of life for people," Cole said.

The Raise Up San Diego group hosted the rally, where several members of San Diego's working poor addressed the crowd.

Sandra Gallindo, who is the mother of three and works two jobs while going to school, told the crowd, "The salaries we earn are making us second-class people because even with that we still depend on welfare benefits."

Cole was joined by City Council President Todd Gloria and Councilwomen Marti Emerald and Sherri Lightner.

"Nobody who works full time should live in poverty," said Emerald. "Nobody should be forced to choose between keeping their job and caring for themselves when they're sick or caring for a sick loved one."

In a memo to Mayor Kevin Faulconer and other council members, they said their goal was to place a measure before voters that:

-- provides a "meaningful" but unspecified increase in the minimum wage for all people working in San Diego
-- ties the pay rate to a cost-of-living index that would be updated annually
-- allows a phase-in period that gives more time for small businesses and nonprofits to raise pay
-- gives five days of earned sick leave for all employees, regardless of industry or business type

The proposal will be presented in two weeks to the Economic Development and Intergovernmental Relations Committee, which would begin hammering out details.

The proposal must be approved by the City Council in August for it to go on the November ballot.

According to Emerald, the sick days provision will create a healthier workforce, since employees would stay home without fear of losing pay or being fired. That way, they won't infect fellow workers or the public, she said.

The minimum wage in California is $8 per hour. Even though the state plans an increase to $9 an hour in July and $10 an hour in two years, Gloria in recent months has been pushing to bump up compensation for the lowest-paid workers even faster in San Diego.

University of San Diego economist Alan Gin told the audience that the minimum wage had its greatest buying power in 1968, when it was just $1.65 per hour. If adjusted for inflation, it would be $13.87 today, he said.

He also said studies that show minimum wage increases lead to job losses are "ambiguous."

Gin said, "What's been found is that if you increase the minimum wage, workers are more productive, they now have more at stake in terms of receiving the higher wage, there's less turnover, as far as employees are concerned and that helps them in terms of training costs, and there is a stimulative impact of people then having more money to spend."

Gin added that those who make the least amount of money are the most likely to spend it, which feeds the local economy.

Last week, the union-funded Center on Policy Initiatives released a study that said a typical family of four needs to make nearly $85,000 annually to live in San Diego without government assistance -- which equates to each adult making more than $20 per hour.

The CPI also said 300,000 households in the region have incomes too low to meet basic expenses.

The city of San Jose raised its minimum wage to $10 a year ago, but a new study by the Employment Policies Institute shows businesses have been forced to compensate for the increase by reducing employee hours and jobs.

10News reached out to the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce for its take on the proposed wage increase and received this statement from President and CEO Jerry Sanders:

"Any proposal by the City Council to add an additional increase on top of the recently approved $10/hour increase by the state will put San Diego at a further competitive disadvantage.  The City Council's proposal should be reviewed by an independent third party to understand the economic impact an additional increase will have on our local economy and businesses."

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