By Sal Bednarz, owner of Actual Cafe & Victory Burger

Much has happened since I wrote my original piece in Oakland Local about minimum wage, Lift Up Oakland, and why I supported a higher wage for my own workers and those all over Oakland: Measure FF passed, with over 80 percent of voters supporting it, and then the real work started. We’re on our way to the second-largest percentage increase in minimum wage in US history, and have influenced surrounding cities to increase their wages to keep pace. Although Seattle and San Francisco have both adopted $15-an-hour minimum wages, those will take effect in phases over time. On March 2, Oakland’s minimum wage will be the highest in the U.S., but likely not for long. Other cities and states are beginning to move in more significant ways to increase wages, and San Francisco’s minimum wage will increase to the same $12.25 per hour in May of this year.

I’ve been involved in several conversations over the past months discussing ways to help locally-owned small businesses through this transition, most especially restaurants and bars, who are the most impacted because of the labor-intensive nature of what we do. Lots of interesting things are being discussed among us — things like moving away from tipping entirely (which some restaurants are already doing), figuring out how to engage city government in this transition process, identifying groups like Oakland Grown who can help us publicize the issue, and just reading and understanding the nitty-gritty of the laws now in place, which we need to implement in just a few short weeks.

Some things are really clear:

  • All restaurants that I’ve spoken to will raise prices — they cannot continue to exist without doing so.
  • Many are worried that their customers will desert them when they do, either going out to eat in adjoining cities that haven’t adopted a higher minimum wage, or by eating out significantly less.
  • Some business owners are just becoming aware that they will be required to adjust their pay structure, and they are playing fast catch-up.
  • Many of our own workers don’t understand that (or how) wages are increasing. I find this true even among my own crew members, despite writing and talking a fair bit about this issue.
  • Many (probably most) of our customers aren’t aware that minimum wage is increasing in just a few short weeks. (My guess is that if you’re reading this, you knew about it already, but many absolutely don’t.)

Although all this is scary to many (including me, by the way), we’re all committed to doing what needs to be done to adjust.

Our major efforts are now aligning on spreading the word about what’s happening and why. We need our customers to follow us through this transition and demonstrate that increases to minimum wage result in happier workers, better businesses and a stronger local economy. We can’t afford to fail at this.

You can help:

  • Add your own voice to the online discussion.
  • Use and monitor the #oaklandlivingwage hashtag on your favorite channels. Talk to your friends and neighbors about this issue.
  • Most of all, support small local businesses. We truly do need you to put your money where you put your vote, and unlike chain businesses who can afford to take a financial loss and adjust slowly to this new cost structure, we need to adapt immediately, which means higher prices right away.

Think about the reasons that you’re already willing to spend your money at your favorite local businesses. These might include an appreciation for the variety they bring to your daily experience, the desire to keep your dollars circulating in your local economy, the appreciation of locally sourced ingredients, economic and/or environmental sustainability, or just because they do what they do really well.

Then, add one more thing to that list: supporting a living wage for Oakland workers. We’ll all be the better for it.


7 Responses

  1. shay marie

    Can we please just do away with tipping!?!?!?! I agree we should pay food servers a living wage, and also we should give them the dignity that the person that their wage is negotiated with their direct supervisor, not table by table based on the whims of the customer. And if that is the case- why should the end cost to the consumer be any different?

  2. Diana

    Will there be preferential hiring to support Oakland residents with this change in minimum wage?

  3. A

    I find it ironic that there has been a lot of chatter here about how these new restaurants are not affordable for a lot of Oakland residents (which I don’t agree with myself) but now prices are going to increase even more?

    Sure people get an increase in wages but that really balances out the increase in living costs since most places need to find a way to recoup the costs. So what’s the net-net? Also, consider that local business are not going to hire more people if it costs more. Either they raise prices (see above) or just not hire.

    Solution? Find a way to attract other business so that a non-minimum wage job can be found. Will it be easy? No way! But it’s more sustainable than just raising wages. See Econ 101.

    • OaklandNative

      Hopefully, those businesses will cater to the “non-upscale.” Hopefully, they will be businesses that the “non-upscale” can afford. Those businesses can also hire non-upscale. Then we don’t continue the cycle of raising minimum wage, price hikes/firing, etc.

  4. RJack

    The problem is that California does not allow tip credit. If they did, much of this would not be a problem. Most people that work in the restaurant business make well above a living wage when tips are included. There is really no reason to raise their wage and put a higher price tag on what the public will have to pay. The reason the government wants it this way is because they will receive more tax money. Restaurants are forced to raise prices under this new law to survive–those supporting this new law will need to continue to spend even though the prices will go up immediately (just like the minimum wage did).

  5. smallbizemp

    I just want to take a moment to thank Mr. Sal Bednarz for supporting minimum wage workers in Oakland and involving the public in major changes that will take place for business owners and their staff in the coming weeks. A living wage is essential for those of us who work short shifts in a performance dependent industry. My colleagues and I need this wage increase. I personally have lived my entire life in the Bay Area, am college educated, and struggling to survive in my hometown. Eliminating tips is a tough subject because servers and bartenders at locally owned small businesses are not overpaid, in fact we live paycheck to paycheck, and shift to shift. In order to survive without tips (as foreign models demonstrate) we need a living wage, not just a minimum wage. I deeply appreciate voices in our community who have been sympathetic to small business and their labor force alike.

  6. MikeC1040

    I voted for Measure FF, but I’m having second thoughts now. I think the initial pay increase is just too steep. It would have been far better to have gotten to $12.25 in two years rather than one. The small business owners I know are not exactly rolling in money. This will put some of them under–it’s already happening in Oakland Chinatown.


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