Eureka voters’ attempt to raise the minimum wage for the city’s largest employers failed decidedly Tuesday, but that’s one small defeat in a rising minimum wage movement.
Sixty-two percent of voting Eurekans cast ballots against the Fair Wage Act — the only time nationally a minimum wage measure has failed, apparently — and the overwhelming opposition didn’t strictly come from the conservative-skewing early voters. More than 60 percent said no to the wage increase at the polls.
It’s fairly odd, considering Eurekans overwhelmingly favored progressive Natalie Arroyo (who took 61 percent of the vote) and nearly voted in Kim Bergel (too close to call, yet) — two candidates who publicly supported Eureka’s Fair Wage Act.
The result is also strange because wage hikes in Alaska, Arkansas, South Dakota and Nebraska sailed to victory this week. San Francisco voters approved a $15/hr minimum wage by 2018. Oakland businesses will pay $12 an hour by 2015. Meanwhile, the White House is pushing to raise a national minimum was to just over $10 an hour.
Why did Eureka vote against the act when much of the nation is embracing higher minimum wages?
The campaign against the measure found considerable financial support, taking in more than $10,000 in anonymous donations by early October. Adding to the coffers before the election were: Best Western Humboldt Bay managing partner Gary Stone, who contributed $1,500; City Ambulance President Fred Sundquist, who donated $2,000; and several smaller donations that brought the total cash contributions to more than $17,000. City Ambulance and North Coast Cleaning also donated ad space.
Perhaps opponents’ cries of unfairness stirred enough fear of economic upheaval. Limited to Eureka city limits, the measure would have complicated things for a few dozen businesses, but the gloomy job-killing predictions have never materialized in other areas that have chosen similar or even more drastic minimum wage increases.
Opponents said the measure would create an unfair business climate and make classes of businesses; ensuring difficulties for businesses with 25 or more employers who choose to stay in Eureka. (The boundaries argument is slippery, because where does it end? County lines? State lines? The national border?)
But in Committee to Protect Eureka treasurer John Fullerton’s letter to the editor, he proposes his own caste system; one that focuses on creating classes of employees, rather than employers.
An oft-repeated trope in opponents’ Measure R arguments was that they are not, in any case, opposed to a fair wage — just this one, because of its Eureka-specificity. Committee to Protect Eureka founder Linda Jo Alexander told this reporter that she would support the wage increase, if only it were proposed countywide.
Well, the Fair Wage Folks intend to do just that. James Decker, outside the Measure R campaign’s somber party Tuesday night, said “I think we will go back to those folks and see if we can get them to do a countywide ordinance.”
Decker also hopes Arroyo and Bergel, if elected, will join Linda Atkins in support of a citywide minimum wage raise in Eureka.