Sep 022014

At the Hastings College of Law forum on minimum wage: Shaw San Liu (at the podium) of Chinese Progressive Action; (seated) Ken Jacobs, chair of UC Berkeley Center for Research on Labor and Employment; Michael Reich, director of the UC Berkeley Institute for Research on Labor and Employment; Un Un Che, a worker; Ofelia Prettyman, also a worker. CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS

SAN FRANCISCO, California – Nearly a quarter of San Francisco, California’s work force would get a pay raise if voters approve a proposed measure in the November ballot.

A recently released study by a group of economists of the University of California (UC) in Berkeley found that an estimated 142,000 workers or 23 percent of San Francisco’s workforce would benefit from Measure J’s passage.

UC Berkeley economists Michael Reich, Ken Jacobs, Annette Bernhardt and Ian Perry and formally presented in a forum at Hastings College of Law recently.

Measure J would raise the minimum wage to $15.00 an hour by 2018, phased in over four steps. It would raise the pay from the current hourly rate of $10.74 to $12.25 an hour on May 1, 2015; to $13 on July 1, 2016; to $14 on July 1, 2017; and to $15 on July 1, 2018. Subsequent years’ rates would then be pegged to inflation.

Everyone who works in San Francisco would be covered by the measure except state and federal government employees and the self-employed.

Wage boost substantial

The study found that the measure, if passed, would result in an increase in workers’ pay by an average of $1.69 per hour translated in a rise in annual incomes by an average of $2,800 per year and resulting in a total increase in aggregate earnings of $397 million (in 2014 dollars) by 2018.

Filipina Ofelia Prettyman speaks of her bad experiences working at a care home.

Adults, workers of color, and working poor families would see significant benefits of a pay increase. The average worker who would benefit from the law contributes 59.5 percent to a family’s income.

Of affected workers 97 percent are in their twenties or older, and 63 percent are in their thirties or older.

About half of all affected workers are employed in three industries: retail trade (14.6 percent); restaurants (19.3 percent); and education, health and social services industries (17.8 percent).

Workers of color (black, Hispanic, Asian and other) make up about 54 percent of the total workforce in San Francisco, but represent about 71 percent of workers affected by the proposed minimum wage increase.

No harm to economy

“A citywide minimum wage can help make the economy more equitable without harming economic growth,” explained Reich, director of the UC Berkeley Institute for Research on Labor and Employment. “That’s more money in low-wage workers’ pockets for a healthier city and a fairer economy.”

Allaying fears that the hike in minimum wage would harm business, economists Reich and Ken Jacobs, chair of the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education stressed that the measure would spur economic activity even more.

The proposal to raise the minimum wage in the city is backed by the Campaign for a Fair Economy, which includes community groups and labor unions, business associations, Mayor Ed Lee, and all 11 members of the Board of Supervisors.

Care home worker

Also present at the Hastings forum to support the wage increase were two workers, Un Un Che and Filipina Ofelia Prettyman.

A green card holder, Ofelia Prettyman worked in a care home for seven years with a flat rate salary of $1,500 a month although the rate should have been on a per hour basis.

“I was renting a $1,000-a-month room in San Francisco and I was left with just $500 for the rest of my expenses. You can just imagine what I can do with that. I did not even have enough money for savings, and the facility I was working for does not give health care benefits,” Ofelia, a divorced single mother from Navotas, Philippines, rued. “An increase in the minimum pay would certainly be a big help for workers like me who could barely make ends meet.”

She further stated that there are many Filipinos like her in care homes getting $1,500-1,600 per month as the standard rate, far from the standard minimum pay.

“Since no one was coming forward to at least ask, no one really knows what the prevailing rates should be,” Ofelia continued. “That was why when I learned we were getting the raw end of the deal, I, together with two more co-workers, filed a complaint with Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSD) to get our unpaid wages.”

Ofelia later learned that they were all possible victims of wage theft as they were also not given overtime and holiday pay.

“We were 12 in my care home and only three of us filed cases. The Department of Labor, a federal agency is now also investigating our plight in the facility apart from the DLSD, a state agency,” Ofelia disclosed “The flat rate was all we received with no benefits but with income tax deductions as reflected in our form 1099.”

Flat or fixed rates are not supposedly allowed in any work place except for supervisory and management level employees.

Ofelia hoped that in coming out in the open, she could add her voice in support of raising San Francisco’s minimum wage, but also that all other victims like her are made aware of their rights and file the necessary cases to get what are due them.

Undocumented workers afraid

“There are many who opted to be silent especially the undocumented workers,” lamented Ofelia. They do not have the courage to file cases because of their status, she explained.

“So whatever little they get from employers, even if not right, they are forced to agree with. They are usually threatened with termination or even (with being) reported to immigration for possible deportation if they complain,“ she added.

Ofelia is now under the wing of the Filipino Community Center (FCC), which supports Filipino workers like her by making workers aware that labor laws applies to everyone, whether documented or not.

Victims are encouraged to seek help by calling FCC at 415-3336267 or visiting them at 4681 Mission Street, San Francisco 94112 where information shared would be treated with confidentiality.


San Francisco officials, business, labor propose ballot measure to raise city’s minimum wage

Filipino caregivers in SF recover unpaid wages

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