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A Tale Of Two Cities: Oakland Workers Celebrate Minimum Wage Hike As Business Owners Worry

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) -- The minimum wage in Oakland is about to become the highest in the Bay Area.

Right now it's $9/hour, but not for long.

Thanks to voter-approved Measure FF, it will rise to $12.25/hour on Monday.

But as this city's minimum wage goes up, so go food prices. Most restaurants have said they'll have to raise prices and cut worker hours.

A group of workers celebrated the pay increase in front of City Hall. They are among the 48,000 low wage workers labor leaders said would benefit from the raise on Monday.

It will certainly help struggling workers like Chris Higginbotham, a cashier at McDonald's.

"Words can't even describe it 'cause I'm so happy...a lot of stress will be off my shoulders…a lot of stress will be off my mind," he said.

More than 80% of Oakland voters approved Measure FF, last year to raise the minimum wage. Besides more money per hour, the measure also gives paid sick leave to all employees.

But while Higginbotham can't wait for the $12.25 hourly wage, small business owners like Sam Hori at 475 Café worry they may not survive.

"It's scary, because if things go down, we cannot afford to be here."

Hori is raising prices at his café, everything from the sandwiches to the smoothies.

"It's $3.85, but it's going up to almost $5," said Hori, handing a smoothie to a customer. "We're going to have less customers because some customers will not be happy about it.."

Hori and dozens of other restaurants next to City Hall compete for the lunch crowd. He believes the higher wage will shut down some mom and pop stores.

There are 19,000 small businesses in Oakland. That's 84% of all businesses here.

At Caffe Teatro, a notice is up letting customers know about the 10 to 15 % price increase.

"It's not money in anyone's pocket because at the same time, we have to increase the price," said owner Moli Ghafouri.

Ditto at Crossburgers Restaurant where owner Eddie Blyden said they are cutting worker hours and finding ways to supplement the higher labor costs.

"Plus, we're dealing with the drought. Prices already escalated because of the lack of rain. Produce prices shot up, beef prices are quite high right now, and we're a burger joint."

So, come Monday, Oakland will be a tale of two cities. As one side worries what they will lose, the other side celebrates their big win.

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