Behind the counter of every tasty sandwich joint, hip bar, and go-to cafe so popular in the Mission are low-wage workers, manning the registers, chopping the vegetables, pulling the espresso shots.
Many have worked for minimum wage for years, but that could change in November when voters will decide on a ballot measure that would raise the minimum wage from $10.74 an hour to $15 an hour by 2018.
In the meantime, we wondered how Mission workers manage in one of the country’s most expensive cities? And how do they view the ballot measure? We will be doing a series of stories on minimum wage workers and families.
Most we spoke with last week depend on living with family or sharing rent with roommates. Often, they work here but live outside of the Mission. Saving up for a rainy day, a medical emergency, or college is tough.
“It’s hard but it’s okay,” said Julio Lopez who works for minimum wage at Jay’s Cheesesteaks on 21st street near Valencia as well as at a nearby taqueria. He works 60 hours over six days a week. He lives with his family on the outskirts of San Francisco in what’s almost Daly City. Lopez said he’s tried living in other areas but that the people really make a place, and he is loath to leave because he would miss the Latino community.
Ana Mejia, a middle-aged woman who serves food at Las Tinajas for minimum wage, shares rent with her family in the Mission. Though she didn’t want to share an opinion on the potential for a minimum wage increase, she did know that if she were to earn more, she would start building up savings – something that just isn’t possible with the wage she currently earns.
Younger workers tend to be optimistic about their earnings. At Sidewalk Juice, Coloy de Guzman said he’s pretty satisfied with his minimum wage job.
“I recently bought a car,” he said proudly. “You just gotta work hard for it.”
But de Guzman, a 20-year-old city native, has the advantage of living with his family in SoMa, where he doesn’t pay rent. This means he can use tips, which add up to between $10 and $20 a day, as spending money and save the rest.
Yoselin Martinez Xonthe, 18, is in a similar situation. She works at Xanath Ice Cream on Valencia for about nine hours a week while she studies nursing and lives with her parents. She knows it would be much tougher if she had to pay rent.
Just a few blocks away, Rocio Zaragoza mirrors Martinez Xonthe almost exactly. Also 18, Zaragoza is holding a large advertising sign at the corner of Mission and 21st. She does this for about five hours a day, three days a week. After graduating from Mission High, she’s trying to earn some money to help her attend SF State to study nursing. She lives with her parents and her wages mostly go to them to secure her place at university. For her, it’s a good job, she said, and she’s earning “okay money.”
For those already in school, minimum-wage jobs don’t always seem as generous.
If she went from what she earns now to earning $15 an hour, Carla Vasquez, who works at La Rondalla, said things would be “way better.”
“With $10 an hour you have to work and the cost of rent, transportation food… how do you expect us to pay our phone bill?” she asked. “It’s a little tight, it’s hard.”
Vasquez is working toward a general education degree at Skyline College and lives with roommates in downtown San Francisco. Sometimes, she said, she doesn’t have money to buy food or has to spend all her earnings on textbooks.
Raul Ruiz, a student at San Francsico State University working toward a Master’s in writing, works part time at Dog Eared books. Ruiz lives in the Excelsior, where he rents a room in a house. He earns slightly more than minimum wage. If his wage were to increase to $15 an hour, he said, it would be slightly better, but “I really can’t complain.”
Ruiz also has the advantage of also receiving a stipend from the university.
Back at La Rondalla, Vasquez’ older colleague Baltazar Tirado, who has worked in the kitchen for 17 years, seemed frustrated with the spending power of his earnings. He lives in the Mission, where he rents a room in a home shared with roommates. His home has a bathroom, but no kitchen.
“No one’s happy with minimum wage,” he said. “Much less myself.”
He’s not alone. Minimum wage workers across the nation have protested the insufficiency of minimum wage.
Nonetheless, Tirado doesn’t agree with raising the minimum wage, fearing that everything else would become more expensive as a result of raising workers’ wages. Between paying for rent, food, and other necessities, Tirado said he wouldn’t have anything left over even if he was paid more. Instead, he’d like to see the cost of living reduced so that his hard-earned dollars would be worth more.
Leonor Noguez also doesn’t think it’s a good idea to raise the minimum wage much higher. She has been working at La Taza for 16 years but still earns less than $15 an hour and said that she and her fellow La Taza workers “deserve to get a raise. Latino workers especially because we do the jobs nobody else wants to do.”
But Noguez said she didn’t like the idea of a new hire, who might be inexperienced and slow, getting paid more right away than what she has worked many years to earn. Nonetheless, if she earned $15 an hour, she’d save for retirement. Or maybe a vacation, she added, making her the first worker interviewed to mention any kind of luxury.
Andrea Valencia contributed to this report.