Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2018, said several managers in the Mission, is hardly a concern.
A more pressing problem? Getting enough hourly workers.
Take Cancún Taqueria for example. Already, most of co-owner Rico Geraldo’s staff works for more than minimum wage, with most earning somewhere around $13.50 an hour. When they’re working overtime, he has to pay them more than the $15 minimum that would go into effect in 2018 if Proposition J passes next week. The ballot measure would increase the minimum wage to $12.50 by May of next year – $1 less than most of his employees earn now and not even that is enough to attract the employees he needs.
“Everybody needs people who work, but nobody is available,” Geraldo said.
Toward the back of the taqueria, Pedro Grande was portioning out guacamole. Even if the taqueria had to pay more, Grande doubts that any of the workers would be let go. The business would simply have to raise prices, and would continue to do just fine.
“Here’s what happens,” he said. “We used to buy burritos for $3. Now the minimum wage is $11 an hour and it’s about $8 for a burrito. It’s easy.”
Exactly the sentiment of Oscar Gutierrez, who owns the Sandwich Place on Mission and 16th. He said he would be happy about a minimum wage increase but warns that naturally, the price of a sandwich will rise as a consequence. But to Gutierrez, that’s just the natural order of things.
“You wanna live in an expensive city, you gotta pay the price,” he said.
Still, at the Sandwich Place, like at Cancún, most of the workers earn more than minimum wage anyhow. Their pay is commensurate with their seniority.
“I have one employee who’s been with me 23 years. It’s either she’s dumb, or I take care of her well,” Gutierrez said.
Alongside the price of a burrito or a sandwich, the economy, at least by some measures, is rising too. If ever there’s a right time to raise the minimum wage, Michael Potepan, a professor of economics at San Francisco State University, says it’s probably now.
Potepan is an expert in urban economics and employment issues in San Francisco, though not an expert on Measure J specifically.
He said the economy, in terms of the job market, has been doing relatively well in San Francisco compared with state and national averages. Nonetheless, he said, the research on the effects of minimum wage on local economies is mixed and inconclusive, making it difficult to determine how such an increase would affect Mission businesses.
“It’s a blunt instrument,” he said, because it affects both people supporting a family on minimum wage and those who are part of a higher-income family and receive support from them. “It picks up both kinds of workers.”
Potepan added that raising the minimum wage is a less popular approach with many economists than, for example, the more targeted Earned Income Tax Credit.
However, EITC isn’t easily applicable at a local level. The bottom line for Potepan is that the local economy could handle a wage increase.
“I’m not saying there wouldn’t be some changes and distortions, but I think it could absorb it,” Potepan said. “It’s not a dealbreaker.”
Miguel Medina, who has worked in the kitchen at Bogaloos on 22nd and Valencia for 19 years, has worked his way up to making a salary, but also earns part of the tips waiters make because front of house staff gives 20 percent of its tips to kitchen workers.
Still, he and other kitchen staff, who still work for hourly minimum wage, are enthusiastic about the idea of raising the minimum to keep up with the astronomical cost of living in the city.
Over at Pete’s Barbecue on Mission street, Pete agreed. Surviving on $10.75 an hour, he admitted, is “pretty tough.” He said he believes in supporting his employees, and that businesses who can’t survive a minimum wage increase may have to accept their fates.
Javier Almanza, who owns Javi’s on Mission between 20th and 21st, would have to do exactly that. He and his one employee are the entire staff at his restaurant, which has only been open for four months. With his 27 years of experience in the restaurant industry, he was hoping to make it with his own business. Minimum wage, he says, is already expensive for him.
With the cost of rent, electricity, and other basic needs, he says being required to raise his employee’s pay would shut him down. In part, that’s because he’s already struggling.
“I’m losing now, from my own pocket,” Almanza said.
Not good enough for Pete, the barbecue owner. “I have to carry my guys,” he said. “$15…it’s okay. If you make it, it’s okay. If you no make it, it’s close the door!”