BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer
The San Mateo County Labor Council, an umbrella group for unions, asked Redwood City officials to put in a loophole in the minimum wage ordinance to exempt most employers who have union contracts, allowing them to pay less than the minimum wage.
City Council on Monday (March 26) voted 6-1 to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020, with Councilwoman Alicia Aguirre opposed. In places like Los Angeles, the union loophole has come under fire because it gave the appearance that labor leaders were undermining the minimum wage movement in order to get more dues-paying workers to join unions.
Critics have said that the loophole allows union organizers to go to businesses, such as hotels, and tell management that they can pay their workers less than the minimum wage if they agree to be unionized.
Councilwoman Janet Borgens questioned the loophole, saying the city ought to be careful in what exemptions it offers. She also asked why include this loophole when the ordinance doesn’t exempt tipped workers or nonprofits. Both groups have contentious discussions with other cities on the Peninsula regarding raising the minimum wage.
Redwood City’s union loophole won’t apply to businesses employing custodians, landscapers, groundskeepers and security guards.
Both Councilwoman Shelly Masur and Deputy City Manager Alex Khojikian said the San Mateo County Labor Council had requested the exemption. Khojikian also said San Mateo and Belmont have similar clauses in their minimum wage ordinances and the inclusion of the loophole kept the ordinances of the three neighboring cities similar.
The Redwood City ordinance also contains another loophole for employees receiving on-the-job training. According to the ordinance for the first 160 hours of employment, the employee is to be paid 85% of the minimum wage.
Councilwoman Alicia Aguirre didn’t support the loopholes, saying there should be no exemptions in the ordinance. She also said the ordinance was “too little, too late,” as she has been pushing for a minimum wage ordinance since at least 2015, and at that time said the city’s minimum wage should be $20 because of the area’s high cost of living.
“There should be no exemptions … who wasn’t trained on the job? You’re being trained and doing the work, that doesn’t mean you should get 85% less because you’re new on the job,” Aguirre said.
The state minimum wage is $10.50 to $11 an hour, depending on the number of employees a business has. Beginning on Jan. 1, in Redwood City the new minimum wage will be $13.50, and on Jan. 1, 2020, will be $15.