Marin Independent Journal, December 31, 2007: Working poor to get a raise

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Nancy Isles Nation

Marin’s lowest wage earners can look forward to a 50 cents-an-hour raise that begins Tuesday when the state minimum wage is increased from $7.50 to $8.

The increase largely affects 1.5 million workers in California who are considered the working poor.

“Minimum-wage workers perform some of the most important jobs in our society as home-care workers, janitors, nursing home attendants, security guards, child care workers, sales persons, farm workers and restaurant workers, among others,” said Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation. “These hard-working Californians have struggled for years to support their families while earning near-poverty wages.”

Pulaski called the increase a step in the right direction, but said more relief is needed for low-income workers because inflation is outpacing the minimum wage.

According to the nonprofit California Budget Project, a single adult working would need to earn more than $13 an hour to cover basic expenses such as housing, food, transportation and health care.

“These figures show that the working poor are unable to make ends meet under the current minimum wage standards,” Pulaski said. “We must link minimum wage to actual costs of living for


greater economic stability.”

Employers in Marin say the increase will lead to higher prices for goods and services.

“Ultimately it’s going to be felt across the board in your food bill and your service bill,” said Jeff Coplin, an owner of Matt & Jeff’s Hand Car Wash in Novato. “In our case, it’s definitely not a situation where costs go up and it isn’t reflected in the prices you charge.”

Coplin said employers will turn to technology to replace workers as they become more costly.

He could buy equipment to clean rims and wheels instead of having workers do it by hand, for instance.

At Matt & Jeff’s, workers start at minimum wage but are rewarded with raises and overtime pay for their skills and loyalty over time. The car wash employs as many as 70 workers during its peak seasons and boasts a low rate of turnover.

“Our wages, for the most part, are above the minimum wage,” Coplin said. “That is a reflection of the fact that we do have stability and that all adds to the service.”

Dale Gilmore, manager at Royal Coach Car Wash in San Rafael, said the wage increase most likely will lead to a price increase at his shop, where the basic wash starts at $17.99. He, too, cited a loyal workforce.

“I have a lot of people who have been here 10 or 12 years,” Gilmore said.

The minimum wage boost is the second in a two-step increase under legislation passed in 2006. The package raised the hourly pay rate to $7.50 in 2007. The last increase prior to that was authorized by the Legislature in 2002 when it was set at $6.75 an hour.

Marin has a living wage ordinance that assures workers with benefits a minimum of $9.75 an hour and workers without benefits $11.25 per hour.

The ordinance applies to workers employed by the county of Marin and the employees of companies that contract with the county.

The federal minimum wage is $5.85 per hour and is scheduled to increase to $6.55 in July.

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