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Echoing N.Y., Calif. city eyes $19 minimum wage

In an echo of New York’s successful effort to raise the minimum wage, Berkeley, Calif., is eying a labor panel’s recommendation to hike the lowest legal pay to $19 an hour.

A $19 wage would be the highest in the nation, and marks the first time by a major American city to redefine a “living wage” as exceeding $15 an hour, the threshold sought by organized labor.

Berkeley’s Commission on Labor also urged Mayor Tom Bates and the City Council to regulate service charges levied by restaurants as a replacement for tips, and to mandate paid sick leave from all employers.

In addition to recommending an increase in the minimum wage to $19 an hour by 2020, the panel recommended that the pay threshold be automatically adjusted to the rate of inflation.  The city’s current minimum wage is $10.

“The Commission foresees no significant fiscal impact resulting from these recommendations,” Commission chairperson Wendy Bloom concluded in a memo sent yesterday to the mayor and the Council.

The recommendations come days after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the minimum wage for most fast-food workers in the state would rise to $15 by 2021 as the result of a recommendation by an ad hoc commission, the Wage Board. The pay of quick-service employees in New York City would hit that threshold by 2018.

Provisions of New York law permit the governor to adjust the pay scales of specific industries if so advised by a wage board.

Following that recommendation, Cuomo pledged to hike the minimum wage of all workers in the state to $15, a process that would have to be done through the conventional legislative process.

A $19 wage for Berkeley would have to be approved by the City Council. The new minimum would apply to all hourly workers in the state.

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