San Francisco is the First City with $15 Minimum Wage, Proudly Brought to You By Unions

On July 1st, San Francisco became the first major U.S. city to have a $15/hour minimum wage.  To enforce the $15 minimum wage, San Francisco has the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement (OLSE), which ensures that businesses comply with the new minimum wage.  Many Local 21 members proudly serve as Compliance Officers at the OLSE.

The $15 minimum wage is the result of Proposition J, which was approved by San Francisco voters in November 2014, and called for the minimum wage to rise gradually to $15 by 2018. At the time of its passage, the city’s minimum wage was $10.74.

Cities and businesses do not automatically decide to increase wages; if labor unions and community groups had not banded together to push for this measure, our minimum wage would still be $10.74. Workers in unions had to fight for many workplace rights and protections that we take for granted today. 

To celebrate the occasion, the City held a reception at City Hall to announce the increase. Elected officials, labor leaders, and community groups that were instrumental in pushing for the change were present, along with minimum wage workers who would be directly impacted by the $15 minimum wage increase.

“Every generation must recommit and reassert its right to labor,” said Director of the San Francisco Office of Labor Standards Enforcement (OLSE) Patrick Mulligan. “Thank you to OLSE workers who ensure these policies are enforced. Let us take a lesson from this. This was fought for because unions, community groups, and elected officials worked together. It takes risks to stand up.”

As a Supervising Compliance Officer, Robin Ho enforces San Francisco’s Minimum Wage and Paid Sick Leave ordinations, and investigates formal and informal complaints of non-compliance. 

At the press conference, Ms. Ho translated for seven minimum wage workers in the Chinatown area. As a Compliance Officer, Robin won $480,000 in back pay for the same seven workers that she translated for. The workers took off a day without pay to attend the event. 

“We are here today to support raising the minimum wage for low-wage workers. We worked in a Chinese restaurant for many years. We worked 6 days a week, for 10-12 hours a day, but we only received wages varying from $1,000-$1,800 a month, which equals to $4.04 cents to $7.29 per hour, far below the City’s minimum wage.”

“In November 2014, with the help of a former worker, we went to OLSE and talked to Ms. Ho, who helped us file a complaint about not receiving minimum wage and overtime pay. The owner hired two attorneys to fight OLSE, and tried to settle with us for less than OLSE’s audit findings.”

“One of the employers called us and said, ‘Hey you guys just want money. We’ll give you money. Just drop the claim.’ We were so upset that the employer thought that we just wanted money. We learned from OLSE that it’s our right to receive minimum wage and that when we work more than 8 hours a day, and 40 hours a week, we are entitled to receive overtime pay, so we stuck together and stood up for our rights. We are so fortunate that with Ms. Ho’s help, the employer settled the case on the day of the hearing for a total of $480,000 in back wages. We received varying amounts from $50,000 to 101,000 in back wages and interest.

 “The minimum wage is so important to low-wage workers. By raising the minimum wage, it helps support our families, puts more money in the workers’ pockets, which leads to more spending in the local businesses, and help our economic growth. Thank you so much for fighting for our rights, and for helping us recover our rightfully earned wages.”