Oakland council members get money from wage hike activists, labor unions

By Bre Payton | Watchdog.org

KA-CHING: Oakland City Council members voted against a more moderate wage hike proposal to ensure the $12.25 increase is the only one on the Nov. ballot. They also have received campaign contributions and research from wage hike activists and labor unions backing the proposal.

OAKLAND, Calif. — City Council members who voted in favor of a labor-backed minimum-wage hike proposal get their campaign donations and research from wage hike activists and labor unions.

The Oakland City Council earlier this week voted against a competing, more moderate proposal in order to ensure that a ballot measure to increase the minimum wage to $12.25 would be the only wage-hike initiative on the November ballot.

The $12.25 increase is being backed by Lift Up Oakland, an organization heavily backed by labor unions. If a simple majority of voters approvet, the wage would be increased in March 2015.

The moderate proposal the council rejected in a 5-3 vote would have delayed the wage increase and given small businesses more time to comply by temporarily exempting them from the hike.

“By putting a competing wage initiative on the ballot, it could have potentially torpedoed any increase for the minimum (wage),” said Jason Overman, spokesman for City Council President Rebecca Kaplan.

Kaplan voted against the more moderate wage hike because she supports the Lift Up Oakland proposal and feels it is the best proposal, Overman said.

Kaplan also received campaign contributions from groups that are financially backing Lift Up’s proposal.

In 2012, she received $1,300 from Service Employees International Union, and $750 from the United Food and Commercial Workers.

Both SEIU and UFCW are listed as part of the “Steering Committee” on Lift Up’s “Supporters” page.

Kaplan isn’t the only council member who voted against the competing proposal and received funds from Lift Up’s supporters.

In fact, four of the five members who voted down the more moderate proposal have support in common with Lift Up.

Councilmember Desley Brooks received $1400 from SEIU in June.

California Teamsters Joint Council, which has endorsed Lift Up, gave $100 to Councilmember Libby Schaaf’s mayoral fund in June.

Councilmember Dan Kalb received donations from SEIU totaling $2,500 in 2012 and 2013 to his campaign and officeholder committee. In 2012, UFCW gave Kalb $200, and the Alameda Labor Council Unity PAC, an arm of the AFL-CIO, gave him $500.

“Campaign contributions from years ago never play a role in how she votes for policy. There’s no connection,” Overman said of Kaplan. “Her contributions are never in her field of vision when it comes to votes.”

“I have no doubt that there are people and interests on both sides of this issue who have contributed to my campaign committee(s) in the past,” Kalb responded in an email to Watchdog.org. “I don’t base my policy positions on who gave what to whom. The LiftUp coalition is quite broad and diverse, including many faith-based leaders. ”

But campaign donations aren’t the only thing minimum-wage increase supporters have given to the council members.

Two of the lead authors for UC Berkeley Labor Center’s impact study on Lift Up’s wage hike proposal are former wage-hike activists.

Ken Jacobs, an author or the Labor Center’s study, previously was the co-director of the San Francisco Living Wage Coalition, a group that pushed for higher wages in the bay area.

Annette Bernhardt, another author of the study, was the co-director at the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group that has worked to raise the federal minimum wage above $10 an hour.

“Two of the lead authors of this ‘study’ aren’t neutral researchers at all, but rather policy advocates whose mind was made up before the study even started,” said Michael Saltsman, of the Employment Policies Institute.

“In order to reach their conclusion that up to 48,000 workers in Oakland will receive a raise, they have to assume that no one’s losing hours (and thus income) and no one’s losing their job,” he said. “It’s a ridiculous assumption that flies in the face of the economic consensus on this issue. The vast majority of credible, peer-reviewed research since the early 1990s points clearly to job loss following a minimum-wage increase.”

While Oakland’s $12.25 increase initiative may seem mild compared to nearby San Francisco’s $15, but don’t be fooled. California recent wage increase from $8 t0 $9, coupled with the boost to $12.25, would actually mean a 53 percent increase, Saltsman said.

A 2010 study by economists from Miami and Trinity University, sponsored by EPI, studied the impact wage hikes have on youth employment. The study focused specifically on how the 2009 federal wage increase from $5.15 to $7.25 affected jobs for teens.

In states where the federal minimum wage increased wages, jobs for teens dropped by as much as 10 percent. By contrast, there was no difference in states where the minimum wage was already above $7.25, the report stated.

Bre can be reached at bpayton@watchdog.org, or follow her on twitter @bre_payton.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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