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Battle Heats Up Over San Jose Measure To Raise Minimum Wage

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(CBS)

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SAN JOSE (CBS SF) – Supporters and opponents San Jose’s ballot Measure D, which would raise the city’s minimum wage to $10 an hour, held dueling press conferences on Monday.

As part of the campaign against the initiative, the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce released the results of a study by Beacon Economics, LLC that predicts a number of potentially negative effects if the measure becomes law.

The report, “An Economic Analysis of Measure D: The San Jose Minimum Wage,” was commissioned by the California Restaurant Association at a cost of more than $10,000, according to Matt Mahood, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce.

The study found that businesses in the restaurant and hospitality industry would be the hardest hit by the passage of Measure D, since about 25 percent of San Jose’s minimum wage jobs are in that industry, according to the report.

While the 2 p.m. press conference against Measure D was under way in the Chamber of Commerce’s downtown San Jose office on West Santa Clara Street, a group of about 20 students from San Jose State University and local community colleges including De Anza and Foothill protested on the corner outside. They held signs that read, “Raise the Wage: $8 is Not Enough!” and “It’s Time for $10.”

23-year-old Lisa Sallaz, who supports Measure D, is a student who supports herself with scholarships, student loans and the low-wage earnings she gets from her job at a downtown Starbucks.

Sallaz said she believes a similar law is already working well in San Francisco, where the minimum wage is $10.24 per hour — $2.24 higher than the state-mandated $8 per hour.

But opponents of Measure D say the study by Beacon Economics indicates that the measure sets up the city to lose between 900 and 3,100 jobs in the coming years.

According to one of the study’s authors, Christopher Thornberg, that doesn’t necessarily mean people who have jobs now will lose them, but may mean that new jobs will not be created because businesses are cutting back.

Furthermore, according to the study, only 43 percent of people who work in San Jose actually live in San Jose, so it’s unlikely that the money would all go back into the city’s economy, even if minimum wage earners do spend the money on immediate necessities like food and rent.

Earlier in the day, around 11 a.m., proponents of Measure D held their own press conference.

Many who spoke at that event contested some of the Beacon Economics projections and cited a number of other studies, which they said had been done by analyzing events rather than models and showed that increasing the minimum wage actually has overwhelmingly positive impacts by putting money back into local economies and decreasing workplace turnover.

Many also spoke of a moral imperative that went unmentioned at the Chamber’s event.

“You can’t live here on $8 an hour,” United Way President and CEO Carole Leigh Hutton said, “And it’s not fair.”

The ballot measure is unique in that it was born in the San Jose State University classroom of Dr. Scott Myers-Lipton, a professor who teaches social justice classes.

His students became inspired to get involved, started canvassing and eventually collected the 19,200 signatures that they needed to get the measure on the ballot.

When the minimum wage increase measure went before the City Council in June, Councilman Ash Kalra was its most vocal supporter.

Kalra said he supports the measure because taxpayer money is at stake when big companies like Walmart and McDonalds pay workers less than they can live on.

“We as the taxpayers subsidize their costs by paying for health care and food stamps for their employees,” he said.

Poncho Guevara, executive director of the San Jose nonprofit Sacred Heart Community Service, a charitable organization that runs one of the largest food pantries in Northern California, agreed.

Guevara said most of the people who come to his organization for food, clothing or help with rent and utility costs are working adults, almost all of whom earn less than $10 per hour.

When Elisha St. Laurent, a 23-year-old San Jose State student, single mom, and low-wage earner heard about the initiative to raise San Jose’s minimum wage to $10, it got her attention.

St. Laurent is working and pursuing dual degrees in behavioral science and sociology while living at her mother’s house with her 6-year-old son.

Although she now has a job on campus where she earns $10 per hour, she still wants to see the minimum wage raised and has been active in the campaign in support of Measure D.

“I always believe that if you believe in something you can always attain it — if you’re focused, you can empower individuals,” St. Laurent said.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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