Low-wage workers in Oakland celebrate minimum wage

Low-wage workers in Oakland Friday celebrated the minimum wage increase that goes into effect Monday.

A group of about 25 workers, including at least two business owners, cheered and chanted at 11 a.m. on the steps of city hall to celebrate what some said will be a historic day for workers in Oakland.

"It's pretty indescribable," McDonald's worker Christopher Higgenbotham said. "I'm very juiced."

Higgenbotham is making $9.75 an hour now. The minimum goes to $12.25 Monday.

Higgenbotham said he'll use the extra pay to save for a home in Oakland. He said other workers he knows will be happier going to work and they're eager to be more productive.

Increased productivity would make Caffe 817 owner Emily Goldenberg happy. She doesn't know whether her 13 employees will be more productive starting Monday, she said.

"I don't know, but I sure do hope so," Goldenberg said.

Goldenberg said she and her husband, who own Caffe 817 in Old Oakland, will be raising prices. They want customers to know service will be as good or better than before.

So she's hopeful the wage increase will boost productivity.

Kate O'Hara, executive director for the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, said business owners mostly seem to support the wage increase.

O'Hara said the ballot measure to increase the minimum wage passed with overwhelming support, with 82 percent of voters saying yes to the measure. The measure also gives workers five to nine yearly sick days.

"I'm willing to take this step because it's the right thing to do," said Sal Bednarz, owner of Oakland's Actual Caf. Bednarz, who also owns Victory Burger in Oakland, said the minimum wage increase isn't the only cost increase he's facing.

His rent has gone up 20 percent and the drought is affecting food costs, he said.

Bednarz said business owners really don't have any extra money to pay higher wages, but he thinks his customers will support his business because they share his values.

Both Bednarz and Goldenberg said they are a bit scared about having to pay higher wages.

Advocates of the higher wage said more than one-quarter of all workers in Oakland, or 48,000 people, will be paid more and about 56,700 will now get paid sick days.

Research by the University of California at Berkeley shows that the impacts will be more significant among workers of color, including black, Hispanic and Asian workers. That group represents 58 to 66 percent of workers in Oakland and 75 to 83 percent of those expected to get the bigger paycheck.

Forty-one to 45 percent of impacted workers are Hispanic, according to the research.

"I feel very benefited from it," construction worker, painter and gardener Toribio Ticante said through an interpreter. Ticante said he will live with a little more dignity.
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