L21 Member and Emeryville Mayor Leads on Minimum Wage Increase

City Councilwoman and Local 21 member Ruth Atkin serves as Mayor for Emeryville. Last week, she ushered in not only her latest political victory, but made a significant accomplishment for all workers by raising the common denominator in another East Bay city by raising Emeryville’s minimum wage to $12.25/hour.  

At a City Council meeting in the first week of May, the council voted unanimously to set Emeryville’s wage floor to $12.25 an hour for workers at small businesses as of July 1, and also adopted a path to increase the city’s minimum wage to nearly $16 by 2019, making Emeryville’s the highest minimum wage in the nation.

“In the City of Emeryville we will have to make about $80,000 in pay adjustments as a large employer to comply with our own ordinance,” Ruth told Local 21.  “We estimate there are 2227 minimum wage earners in Emeryville and about 6900 workers in Emeryville who earn less than $14.44/ hour.  Our daytime work force is around 22,000 people.”
This comes after the Lift Up coalition put $12.25/hour for small businesses on last November’s Oakland ballot, and $14.44/hour for large businesses. Since January, plans have been in the works to address wage inequity and raise the minimum wage in Emeryville.

The call for more income equality accompanies the trend seen everywhere in the Bay Area: rising rents in a difficult market.  Along with tenants, this trend has been driving diversity, creativity, and culture away from urban centers like Emeryville and Oakland to the outskirts.
“As elsewhere in the Bay Area, we have had housing displacement as rents have skyrocketed,” Ruth said.  “Our poet laureate had to move to Pt. Richmond because of a 38% rent increase.”
Ruth is not only a long-time political activist and Local 21 leader, she also identifies as lesbian. Income inequality’s evil twin, the renters’ market, continues to make the Bay Area less hospitable to the groups it once gave refuge to from intolerance in other places.
Women, particularly LGBT women, disproportionately feel the impact of the growing wage gap, according to a number of women’s and LGBT organizations. From an analysis conducted by the National Women’s Law Center based on 2014 U.S. Census data, women who work full time, year round are on average paid only 78 cents to every dollar earned by their male counterparts. This earnings gap equals $10,876 less per year in median earnings.  

The law center also found that lesbians continue to earn less than men, LGBT or otherwise. In addition to being on the lower rung of the income pyramid as women, lesbians in particular are more likely than gay men to support children. 49 percent of lesbian and bisexual women report having a child compared to 19 percent of gay and bisexual men, the NWLC reported.


Ruth Atkins speaks at the #Fightfor15 Rally, where dozens of L21 members turned out.

Read how Local 21 showed solidarity with low-wage workers to raise the minimum wage in #Fightfor15.