San Francisco minimum wage increases to $15 an hour on Sunday

San Francisco will become the first major city in California to increase its minimum wage to $15 an hour on Sunday.

Labor unions, elected leaders and worker’s rights group celebrated at City Hall on Friday to mark the occasion. They said no one who works full time should ever have to live in poverty. Among the speakers was Shaw San Liu, Organizing Director for the Chinese Progressive Association.

“The $15 demand was considered impossible, but we made the impossible, possible,” Liu said. “It is with a lot of sacrifice that low wage workers come forward and talk about wage theft and not being able to survive off their wages.”

The increase was the vision of late Mayor Ed Lee whose ballot measure was approved by voters in 2014. Current Mayor Mark Farrell said there is still a long way to go, especially when it comes to keeping low income earners in a city with high housing costs.

“It’s a combination of making sure we build enough affordable housing,” Farrell said. “That’s why this discussion around affordable housing it affects everybody in San Francisco.”
Gwyneth Borden, Executive Director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, said it also getting more difficult for restaurants to thrive.

“It is challenging to pay people more in a very tight labor market,” Borden said. “It is necessary to pay people more.”

She believes the city will start seeing varying business models in order to be successful. One restaurant, Souvla, is already thriving with three locations in San Francisco. The Greek restaurant and wine bar offers an alternative model to combat high labor and high rent costs. The eateries are considered high end fast fine dining where customers serve their own water and can get in and out quicker than a traditional full service restaurant.

“It basically allows you to have great volume, a great experience, great food, great service people still 
bring food to your table and greet you when you walk in the door,” Borden said.

Employees at Souvla are paid above minimum wage. They also healthcare benefits, a 401K plan, and paid vacation. 

Still, for low income earners, the fight for higher wages is not over. Liu said work must continue to lift up the lowest paid employees in the city and address the cost of housing and real estate that is driving people out of the city.

Emeryville will also increase its minimum wage for small employers to $15 an hour on Sunday.