by Bob Doran
The "Fair Wage Folks," a local committee working toward raising the minimum wage in Eureka, submitted petitions yesterday with signatures of approximately 2,700 voters. Depending on how many of those pass muster, the Eureka Fair Wage Act could be on the ballot in June.
"We look forward to about 1,400 of Eureka's workers getting a raise," said James Decker, one of the Fair Wage Folks, citing wage statistics from the latest census. "If we make the spring ballot, that will happen in July 2013."
At this point it's up to City Clerk Pam Powell to check the validity of the signatures. The minimum for consideration is 1,370, 10 percent of those who voted in the 2011 election; 15 percent speeds up the process. If the petitions meet either threshold, the clerk will present the ordinance to the city council. They could pass it as written or opt to put it to a vote for the electorate. "We think it will go to a vote of the people, but anything is possible," said Decker, noting that, in July 2012, the minimum wage increase was submitted to the city council and they voted against implementation. He sees a reversal as unlikely.
If, as the Fair Wage Folks hope, the clerk's office certifies 2,055 as valid, the matter must be put to a vote within 103 days, in the June election. If somewhere between 1,370 and 2,055 signatures are valid, the ordinance will be on the ballot in November 2014.
The Eureka Fair Wage Act is modeled on a similar ordinance passed by voters in San Jose last November. San Jose's Measure D raised the minimum wage to $10 an hour within the city. California's minimum wage is $8 an hour; the federal minimum is $7.25.
While San Jose's ordinance is across the board -- for all employers -- the Eureka version would exempt businesses with fewer than 25 employees, "the mom and pops in Old Town" for example, said Decker.
The Fair Wage Folks did not spend much money gathering signatures. So far they have not even reached the $1,000 threshold that would require a filing with California's Fair Practices Commission. The committee's first ever fundraiser was a Fair Wage Cafe in December at the Eureka Labor Temple with speakers, music and free food, "mostly to inform people," according to Decker. Another is planned for March 23, tentatively returning to the Labor Temple.
Decker figures they'll need some money come election time to combat those opposing the ordinance. "I expect some of the big boxes like Walmart and Target to put up a fight," he said. "They're the lowest-paying retailers."