By Mel Katz and Bill Walton

Jessie is a young San Diegan doing everything right to get a start in life. While attending San Diego State University, she has worked full time at two restaurants, making minimum wage plus only about $1 an hour in tips. Jessie bravely spoke up at a recent City Council meeting:

Mel Katz, executive officer and owner of Manpower in San Diego.
Mel Katz, executive officer and owner of Manpower in San Diego.

“I often have had to choose between a full gas tank or a full belly. Working full-time and living in poverty is unacceptable.”

We wholeheartedly agree. Whether someone works at a job for a year or 20 years, no one should live in poverty while working.

We are disheartened that some in our business community — with funding from outside corporations — are trying to block enactment of the city’s reasonable new minimum wage and earned sick time ordinance.

They have launched an expensive and divisive petition drive for an unneeded referendum. To San Diegans who will be asked to sign a deceptive petition on minimum wage, we urge: Don’t sign it.

It is disappointing and discouraging that some people at the top of the economic mountain in our society are still not satisfied with their take. And now these people, who continue to prosper, want to deny a bare minimum of subsistence to others who work so very hard.

We must care about what happens in the lives of our fellow San Diegans, Californians and Americans. We are all part of the same team, community and country.

We all know San Diego is an expensive place to live. With an average one-bedroom apartment here renting for $1,032, it’s unrealistic to expect someone to support themselves or a family on the state minimum wage of $9 an hour, which pays $1,560 a month before taxes for full-time work.

The modest local increase approved by the City Council gradually raises the minimum to $9.75 on Jan. 1. When the state increase goes to $10 a year later, the San Diego minimum will be $10.50. And finally, in 2017, it will be $11.50 an hour, just 15% above the state level.

Bill Walton, San Diego-native basketball great, broadcaster and businessman. Photo via Wikimedia Commons
Bill Walton, San Diego-native basketball great, broadcaster and businessman. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

That difference is a small fraction of the cost of doing business, but for 172,000 hard-working San Diegans striving to pay the rent, put food on the table and support their families, it will have a huge impact.

The ordinance also gives workers the ability to earn up to five paid sick days a year, so they can take care of sick children without losing pay or their jobs, or recover and avoid infecting others when ill. This is a basic need for the estimated 279,000 people working in San Diego who currently lack a single day of sick time.

Together, earned sick time and a local minimum wage establish a basic standard of fairness for working people and their families. And they are good for business. Earned sick time will more than pay for itself by increasing the productivity of a healthier and happier workforce. It’s well documented that wage increases for those on a tight budget are spent close to home on basic necessities like food, housing and transportation. In San Diego, that will mean millions of dollars circulating and recirculating through the local economy each year.

Contrary to the fears spread by some corporate interests, experience shows raising the minimum wage is good for business. One year after San Jose created a higher local minimum wage, business was booming and unemployment was down.

There’s no excuse for delaying San Diego’s earned sick time and minimum wage measure. A super-majority of our elected representatives on City Council approved it, and a poll three weeks ago by Greenburg Quinlan Rosner Research shows that almost two-thirds of San Diego voters — 63 percent — support the ordinance.

If the signature gatherers persuade 34,000 voters to sign the petition for a referendum, implementation of the modest and sorely needed minimum wage and sick time measure will be blocked until the 2016 elections. Special interests will have thwarted the will of the people, and many thousands of San Diegans will continue to struggle in poverty while working.

We urge you: Please do not sign the minimum wage petition. It will be a little easier for Jessie and 172,000 other hard-working San Diegans to live in San Diego starting this January. There is no reason for them to wait!

The petition will be everywhere in the next few weeks. Please don’t sign it!

Mel Katz, executive officer and co-owner of Manpower San Diego, has been a business leader in San Diego since 1977. Bill Walton is a native San Diegan, Hall of Fame basketball great, broadcaster, motivational speaker and businessman.

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