Councilman Jeff Johnson stands with petitioners seeking to a minimum wage increase in Cleveland. (Staff photo by Rhonda Crowder)
How much does it cost to live in a decent life in Cleveland? Can a single individual survive off less than $16k a year? Should Cleveland raise the minimum wage from $8.10/hr to $15? And, if so, will it hurt or help our economy?
These are the questions Clevelanders are debating as the city has been challenged to increase the minimum wage by Raise Up, a group who collected more than 28,000 signatures in support of their proposal in less than two weeks. The proposal calls for this increase to take effect in January.
The working poor want the increase while the business community is pushing back. Both Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson and Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley oppose it. Jackson has stated publicly he will support a state or federal mandate, not a Cleveland-only increase.
The fear is businesses will flee to neighboring communities.
Anthony Caldwell, communications director for Service Employer’s International Union (SEIU), said during a phone interview last Friday, Cleveland should increase the wage regardless of a state or federal mandate because it is the most economically depressed city in Ohio.
“Cleveland would benefit most,” said Caldwell. “People are literally working to survive. When you lift up workers, you lift up the community. Folks are struggling.”
He went on to say the poverty is so bad, people have lost hope. “We have to do something different.” He believes business leaders should stop deflecting to the state or federal government, ignoring what’s right in front of us. “You can’t expect Obama or Kasich to solve this,” he said.
Caldwell also said this has become personal, passionate issue for him. He is tired of corporate greed and criticized those who call it an aggressive wage increase. “People are suffering,” he said.
According to Caldwell, the last increase statewide occurred in 2006 and was indexed for inflation. He said family-owned businesses and small companies with 25 employees or less are exempt from the increase, that it would affect medium and large businesses like McDonald’s or The Cleveland Clinic.
He mentioned that minimum wage jobs are not always entry level positions, either.
The proposed legislation, put before city council in Monday night’s meeting, brought out a chamber full of citizens wearing T-shirts with words calling for the increase. Cleveland Councilman Jeff Johnson received a standing ovation when he stood in support of it.
He thinks the city can be leader in the state on this issue.
“Let’s show the nation we get it,” Johnson said. He made it known council is forced to address the issue because of the petition signed by people. “I stand with these folk.”
Now, council has three options: pass the proposal, reject it, or pass an amended version. If rejected or amended, it could go before voters.
On the issue of raising the minimum wage, many point the blame at the federal government for failing to increase the wage as the cost of living increased. Cleveland business woman Laverne Jones Gore says Cleveland is in poverty so the city needs to do everything it can to stimulate the economy and small business drives it.
She believes the fifteen dollar minimum wage will hurt small businesses. “Big businesses will automate,” she said. “The small businesses can’t afford the systems to automate.”
Gore also raised the issue of paying a person more money for the same skill set, and small business not being able to hire. Moreover, addressing Cleveland’s poverty issue too, she just doesn’t think Cleveland’s economic climate is ready for a jump to $15/hour minimum wage.
“The economy has not grown,” Gore said. “We must consider the consequences.”