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Anti-Poverty Activist Says Time Is Right for Minimum Wage to Rise in California

OAKLAND (KPIX) -- Voters later this year may get to decide if California will increase the minimum wage to $18 per hour but some in the business community said this is not the right time given their struggles during the pandemic.

"There's not a single Californian right now who's working for $15 minimum wage who's earning enough to afford life's basic needs. Not a single one," said Joe Sanberg, the chief proponent behind the movement to increase California's hourly minimum wage.

The wealthy Los Angeles investor and anti-poverty activist is financing the signature-gathering process to qualify the Living Wage Act of 2022 ballot initiative for the November election.

"People understand the wages in California are piss-poor and I am sick of it. This is personal for me. I grew up in situations where my mom raised me by herself. She often worked multiple jobs," Sanberg said.

His team has until April to collect at least 700,000 signatures from registered voters. He hopes to get a million signatures.

"We're going to get it done, in part because this is a popular policy," Sanberg said.

Right now, California's minimum wage is $15 an hour for large companies with 26 or more employees and $14 for businesses with 25 or fewer workers.

The proposal aims to bump that up the hourly rate by a dollar each year until it reaches $18/hr in 2025 for big employers and in 2026 for small businesses. After reaching $18, the minimum wage would be adjusted yearly to keep pace with inflation.

"During this pandemic, we're still in a state of emergency. Many small businesses are talking about whether or not they should close," said Carl Chan with the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce.

Chan believes the proposal would force even more store closures and drive up prices. Many small businesses also said it's bad timing.

"In order to make up those additional expenses and costs, they have to increase the fees in terms of the prices," Chan said.

Some business leaders said it would be better for cities to set their own minimum wage. The hourly minimum for San Francisco for example is $16.32.

If the initiative gets on the November ballot and passes, California would have the highest minimum wage in the country.

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