A Look at Minimum Wage Hikes in San Jose, San Francisco

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    NEWSLETTERS

    flickr/401(K) 2013

    On Jan. 1, the minimum wages paid by employers in both San Jose and San Francisco will be higher based on adjustments for inflation, but the cities have somewhat different experiences so far with their wage laws.

    San Jose's wage law is the newer of the two and its $10 an hour minimum passed by voters only a year ago will increase to $10.15 as of Wednesday, according to city spokesman David Vossbrink.

    The jump is based on a 1.5 percent rise in the U.S. Department of Labor's regional consumer price index, Vossbrink said.

    San Francisco's law was approved by voters in 2003 and started in 2004 at $8.50 an hour, up from California's then $6.75 statewide hourly wage rate, according to Donna Levitt, manager of the city's Office of Labor Standards Enforcement.

    San Francisco's minimum wage has steadily risen -- based on CPI increases -- and will reach $10.74 an hour as of New Year's Day, Levitt said.

    According to the state Department of Industrial Relations website, California's minimum wage of $8 an hour is set to climb to $9 on July 1, 2014, and $10 on Jan. 1, 2016.

    The federal minimum wage, which debuted at 25 cents an hour in 1938, is currently $7.25 and was last increased, from $6.55 an hour, on July 24, 2009, according to the Department of Labor's website.

    The wage law in San Jose requires all employers paying a San Jose Business Tax or who "maintain a facility" in the city to pay the city's minimum wage to employees who work least two hours per week, according to the city's Office of Equality Assurance website.

    The ordinance also protects workers from retaliation for turning in employers who fail to pay the minimum rate and gives them the right to sue or file a complaint with the city. 

    The city of San Jose can access employer payroll records and enforce the law by requiring employers to reinstate workers, pay back wages and penalties for not complying, according to the Equality Assurance office website.

    Vossbrink said that San Jose's law has been successful in its first year.

     "As far as we can see, it's been pretty smooth," Vossbrink said. "I don't think we've had some serious difficulties of getting people to comply."

    While no one is claiming that $10.15 an hour is a high wage, it does serve as a "bump for employees at the lower end of the scale," Vossbrink said.

     San Francisco, which has had more years of experience dealing with its law, recently released its first annual report on its minimum wage and how employers have been meeting its requirements, Levitt said.

    From July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2013, San Francisco recovered $1.4 million in back wages and interest from employers who violated the ordinance, 32 percent more than the previous year, according to Levitt.

    The year's most significant case was a resolution with Dick Lee Pastry, a Chinese restaurant at 715 Jackson St. in the city's Chinatown, that agreed to pay $525,000 in back wages, interest and penalties after paying its workers only $4 per hour, Levitt said.

    San Francisco monitors employers based on the complaints it receives from employees, and other than that there "is no way to really track compliance," Levitt said.

     "There is a lot more non-compliance that goes undetected," Levitt said. "We encourage workers to make efforts to contact us."

    While the law protects workers who report employers for not paying them the city's minimum wage, many immigrant workers feel too vulnerable about losing their jobs to come forward, according to Levitt.

     "They have limited options," Levitt said.