Last week’s announcement by the University of California to gradually increase the school system’s minimum wage — topping out at $15 per hour on October 1, 2017 — joins an increasingly more conspicuous political will in Southern California to beef up the paychecks of hourly wage earners. The UC increase applies to all of its direct and contract-service employees clocking more than 20 hours per week; roughly 3,200 steady jobholders — primarily students — will benefit from the increase, plus “thousands more” who are part of a constant ebb and flow of contracted workers, according to Dianne Klein, UC’s director of media relations.

“Our community doesn’t exist in a vacuum,” said the UC’s Janet Napolitano, president of the state’s third largest employer. “How we support our workers and their families impacts Californians who might never set foot on one of our campuses. This is the right thing to do.”

In Santa Barbara, “there’s been a recent conversation by a network of progressive groups about trying to pass a living wage that covers the whole economy [and] raise wages for working families,” said Daraka Larimore-Hall, chair of the Democratic Party of Santa Barbara County and secretary of the California Democratic Party. He explained that the city’s 10-year-old living wage ordinance was a good start, but it only covers contract workers of for-profit enterprises hired by the city and not, for example, somebody working for a nonprofit group under contract with the city.

“If you power wash State Street as an employee of the Downtown Organization, you are not covered by Santa Barbara’s living wage ordinance,” Larimore-Hall said. “Nonprofits are gigantic employers in our city.”

Currently, the city’s living wage ranges between $13.20 and $16.80, depending on benefits. But even that maximum amount falls short of what a double-income family of four needs to make ends meet in Santa Barbara, according to Cameron Yee of the Ventura-based Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE). Yee added that 60 percent of renters in Santa Barbara pay more than one-third of their income for housing, while another third pays more than 50 percent. This so-called “paradise tax” — the added cost of living along the South Coast — becomes an even more sobering reality when workers are faced with the fact that, overall, wages have remained flat throughout the county for the past 13 years, according to the Santa Barbara Economic Forecast Project, presented by UCSB earlier this year.

According to similarly themed research by Nelson Lichtenstein of UCSB’s Center for the Study of Work, Labor & Democracy, low-wage workers in Santa Barbara — namely maids, housekeepers, and those in retail and food prep — typically earn about a $1 per hour less than their counterparts elsewhere. The situation, Lichtenstein found, was more disparate for Santa Barbara’s construction labors, who averaged $5 less per hour.

Elsewhere in Southern California, Los Angeles became the biggest city in the U.S. last month to guarantee workers $15 per hour by 2020, while last week the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted in a similar wage increase for unincorporated areas. San Diego will bump its minimum wage to $11.50 by 2017. And Santa Monica already has a living wage of $15.37 an hour that applies to hotel workers, city employees, and workers of contractors doing business with the city. It’s also accelerating efforts to establish an increase — on par with Los Angeles —– that follows the “whole economy” concept mentioned by Santa Barbara-native Larimore-Hall.

The California state minimum wage is currently $9 an hour, set to increase to $10 on January 1.


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