Protesters congregate in Oakland to push for minimum wage increase
Hundreds of demonstrators shut down Bay Area streets and restaurants April 15 as part of a nationwide fight to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour.
Protesters rallied in Oakland fast food restaurants, including primarily McDonald’s locations, to demand living wages and a workers’ union for employees before marching from 14th Street and Broadway Avenue in Oakland to Sproul Hall at University of California, Berkeley for a demonstration at 3 p.m.
“Berkeley currently has a substandard minimum wage,” said Shum Preston, spokesperson for Service Employees International Union Local 1021. “It’s at ($11 in October), but there’s no (wage) inflation.”
The city’s current minimum wage is $10 per hour. It will increase to $11 Oct. 1 and rise again to $12.53 in 2016, according to the city’s Housing and Community Services Department. Preston said workers will fall behind as wage increases do not match rising living costs.
“Waiting five or six years is not acceptable,” said 15 Now Berkeley organizer Rob Brooke. “The current schedules raising the minimum wage of Berkeley are going to drag on too long and it’s too little.”
The volunteer-based organization 15 Now organizes protests and advocates for a $15 minimum wage nationwide. Also a member of Carpenters Union Local 713, Brooke said he joined the local 15 Now chapter after realizing the impact of inflation on minimum wage workers.
“It is clear to us that there’s a whole generation of young people that are getting left people behind,” Brooke said.
Under the organization of Fight for 15 — a national campaign to advocate for a $15 minimum wage for fast food workers — 15 Now Berkeley was one of the many groups rallying alongside the Service Employees International Union, the Sierra Club and students from East Bay universities and community colleges.
UC Berkeley student Ulises Serrano, 23, was among the protestors who said his involvement was fueled by his personal connection to subpar living wages.
“With the cost of living increasing all the time, it’s very difficult for (my parents) to really be able to provide a sustainable lifestyle for themselves and myself and my brother,” Serrano said.
He said a college degree is not a guarantee for reliable, adequate employment in the current competitive job market.
Zharia Harper, a 19-year-old Laney College student and McDonald’s employee, spoke at the rally that called for fair minimum wages and a respectable working lifestyle.
“It’s more than just the money,” she said. “(It’s about) making sure you can come home and say ‘I worked hard, and I’m getting paid respectfully.’”
SEIU President Mary Kay Henry addressed the crowd before continuing the march down Bancroft Way and effectively shutting down traffic in downtown Berkeley.
Henry said she chose to come to Berkeley out of the near 200 participating cities in America and worldwide because the city represented the power to change wages.
“There’s no stopping us now,” she said to the crowd.
Preston said there is a regional effort to follow San Francisco’s minimum wage increase model. Emeryville is expected to increase its minimum wage to $14.42 by June before it rises again to $16 by 2019, and Richmond will expect an increase next year.
In June, the Berkeley City Council will consider a wage increase to $15.99 by 2017, following a revised minimum wage law by the Labor Commission.
“It’s not necessarily ‘if’ $15, but ‘when’ $15,” Preston said.