Minimum Wage Enforcement Ordinance placed on hold
By Aldrich M. Tan
April 13, 2006
Supervisors decided to continue the discussion over an ordinance
to impose an annual fee to business owners in order to increase
staffing to oversee the minimum wage ordinance in two weeks at
the Budget and Finance Commission meeting on Wednesday.
The original ordinance implements an annual fee of $39 to help
add staffing to the City's Office of Labor Standards Enforcement
so that it can improve its ability to impose Proposition L, the
Minimum Wage Ordinance, which established the local minimum wage
at $8.50 per hour, indexed to inflation.
"If San Francisco is the progressive city that we claim
it to be then we need to make sacrifices to make sure that everybody
that makes this city great is paid rightfully," Supervisor
Sophie Maxwell said
Passed in Nov. 2003, Prop. L promised to raise the income of
the 54,000 lowest paid workers in San Francisco which includes
a large group of immigrant residents, said Alex Tom, campaign
coordinator for the Chinese Progressive Association.
The fine for disobeying the minimum wage ordinance is a penalty
equal to $50 per day of underpayment in addition to a penalty
of up to $50 per day paid to the city, OLSE representative Richard
Waller said. Penalties of current cases could amount to over $2.5
Since the proposition's passing, OLSE receives two cases per
week by employees about unfair minimum wage policies, Waller said.
The organization has only completed tackling 7 percent of the
124 claims that it is currently dealing with because of limited
"It's a very timely process," Waller said. "We
are getting numerous cases that are requesting for hearings and
it is backing up in the pipeline. This legislation would give
us the ability to move things forward in a timely fashion."
Meanwhile, minimum wage violations are still widespread, said
Lily Wu, a Chinatown restaurant worker. Wu, who has been a resident
of the United States for seven years and spoke to the Supervisors
with a Chinese translator, said that many restaurants in Chinatown
do not enforce minimum wage laws.
"Many of the workers in the kitchens like myself do not
speak English well so it is hard for them to find any other types
work," Wu said.
At such restaurants, immigrant workers meet the minimum wage
requirements illegally through service tips, said Youqin Wu, a
restaurant worker in Chinatown.
"Waiters work long hours and they literally rely on their
tips to survive," Wu said. "Although there is a minimum
wage law, there is not much outreach to strengthen the minimum
Cultural and language barriers limit immigrant employee access
to advocacy and seeking legal direct services, said Eloise Lee,
a volunteer for the Filipino Community Center of the Excelsior
"The immigration status of such workers prevents them from
going to government offices," said Terry Valen, Filipino
Community Center organization director. "They are always
going to be in hiding and that is why we need to help them enforce
the minimum wage."
Jim Lazarus, senior vice president of the San Francisco Chamber
of Commerce, said he does not support the ordinance. Lazarus said
the ordinance will force law biding business owners to pay an
"This ordinance be enforced through private enforcement
and any organization or any individual can act on behalf on any
employee to collect attorneys fee for the effort," Lazarus
said. "Punish those who disobey the rules, not the 90 percent
of people who do pay more than minimum wage."
Daniel Scherotter, executive chef of Palio D'Asti, restaurant
in Sacramento Street, agreed with Lazarus.
"The only way you ware going to get there is if it puts
the fear in the employers' minds that they are taken to court
if you don't follow the law," Sherotter said.
Matthew Goldberg, staff attorney for the Legal Aid Society, said
he disagreed with Lazarus' idea of private enforcement. Plaintiffs
would never bring the cases forward themselves in the cases that
Goldberg said he has looked at.
"Despite all the time and effort, we nearly do not have
enough resources to get and help the people who suffer under violations
of the minimum wage laws," Goldberg said. "With a staff
of three or four people in my organization, there are not enough
people to clearly invoke the legislation."
Supervisor Aaron Peskin said he was concerned that the ordinance's
requests could be decreased. The ordinance's fees would establish
13 full-time positions in the office and reimburse a city attorney
"This is a doubling of the staff capacity in a short period
of time" Peskin said. "I'm sure that you need help,
but I'm not sure that you need that much help right now."
The committee motioned to continue the discussion over the minimum
wage ordinance in two weeks. The discussion will include the possibility
of establishing a sliding fee that rather than the grounded annual
fee for all businesses, Supervisor Maxwell said.
"I hope that we will have the opportunity to weigh all these
alternatives and see where they lead us," Maxwell said. "I'm
willing to think about it again to look at all the alternatives
and discuss this ordinance at a later time."
Supervisor Sean Elsbernd said he wanted more information about
the pending cases and how much backpay is ultimately due to employees
whose employers have violated the minimum wage ordinance.
Maxwell said she is determined to bring the ordinance up again
"Immigrant workers are the most abused as we look at immigration
issues on a national scale," she said. "Our city has
an obligation to protect them."