Emeryville debates whether $16.30 minimum wage should apply to small businesses

EMERYVILLE, Calif. (KGO) -- A debate over minimum wage is unfolding in Emeryville. The city has the highest minimum wage in the country. As of July 1, it became $16.30 an hour. That's more than San Francisco at $15 an hour and significantly more than the state minimum wage. Small business owners saying the new minimum is hurting their bottom line and they're asking the city for some relief. The city council may decide on Tuesday night if they should be exempt.

Small business owners say the increase in minimum wage is hurting their business, while minimum wage advocates say the exemption is hurting low-income employees.

On July 1, the city's $16.30 minimum wage went into effect for all businesses except for those with up to 55 employees. An amendment passed in May that gave those businesses an exemption.

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In response, advocacy group Restaurant Opportunities Centers United launched a petition to repeal the amendment.

"Even with a minimum wage of $15, in the Bay Area, you know that's not livable," ROC United President Sara Jayaraman said. "And for restaurant workers making that bare minimum, $15 is just eking out bare survival."

But small business owners in Emeryville disagree.

Dave Ung is the co-owner of Black Diamond Cafe. At the beginning of the year, he had eight employees. He said he cut two part-time workers once he learned about the increase in minimum wage.

"We like to have a certain number of minimum wage," he said. "But going beyond $16 an hour, I think that's going to hurt a lot of small businesses."

According to Ung, already many businesses in Emeryville have been forced to close.

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The city council will vote Tuesday on the amendment.

They will either repeal the exemption or decide to let voters decide in an upcoming election. Even if the exemption remains, small business owners will have to increase their minimum so that by 2027 they do pay $16.30.

In the meantime, Jayaraman says there are other ways small businesses can cut costs and save money.

"Let's talk with the city council about tax incentives for employers," she said. "Let's not talk about cutting workers' wages."
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