Facing The Challenge Award 2013 Recipient

Café J Campus Alliance for Economic Justice

In the spring of 2011 Social Action course, four students (Marisela Castro, Leila McCabe, Heather Paulson, and Saul Gonzalez) joined together and started a campaign to increase the minimum wage in Silicon Valley. Marisela Castro brought the idea to the class because she could no longer stand the injustice she was witnessing at the after school program where she was working. Kids were sneaking food into their backpacks because the parents were making just $8 an hour, which wasn’t enough to ensure food at home. In addition, parents had to work two jobs, making it difficult to provide the necessary support structure for their children to be successful in school. All four of the students (Marisela Castro, Leila McCabe, Heather Paulsen and Saul Gonzalez) had similar experiences either struggling to make ends meet on a minimum wage job, or witnessing friends and family struggling to afford the basic necessities. That semester they started off by conducting research. As part of their research, they found that three cities had already increased their city-wide minimum wage: San Francisco ($10.24 an hour), Santa Fe ($10.29 an hour), and Washington DC ($8.25 an hour). Importantly, the social scientific research conducted on the impact of a city-wide minimum wage showed that: (1) it helped low wage workers pay for basic needs like food and rent, (2) it stimulated the local economy, since the people making the minimum wage spent these few extra dollars locally; (3) it did not increase unemployment, and (4) it did not hurt small business, because they generally passed on this cost by raising prices by a few percent. In that same semester, Leila, Heather, and some more students created the Campus Alliance For Economic Justice (CAFÉ J), and they decided to focus their efforts on the minimum wage campaign.

That summer, CAFÉ J students began meeting regularly with Poncho Guevera, Director of Sacred Heart Community Services, Almaz Negash, Director of Silicon Valley, and several other community leaders, about a city-wide minimum wage campaign in San Jose.

In the fall, students in my Social Action course continued working on the minimum wage campaign, raising money to conduct a poll, and then actually doing so. With the poll numbers showing that San Joseans overwhelming support $2 increase to the minimum wage, the South Bay Labor Council joined the leadership team, and became an extremely important ally. Other organizations became involved as well, including United Way, Catholic Charities, Jewish Federal of Silicon Valley, NAACP, and the Silicon Valley Council of Non Profits.

In the spring of 2012, the Social Action students and CAFE J, in collaboration with our allies, helped to gather 36,000 signatures (19,200 were required) needed to put the measure on the November 2012 ballot.

In the summer and fall, our coalition took multiple actions to get out our three messages to the voters: 1) If you work hard and play by the rules, you deserve a fair wage, 2) $8 is not fair since a full-time minimum wage worker can’t pay for the basics on that salary, and 3) increasing the minimum wage encourages self-sufficiency and reduces the need for government services.

On November 6, 2012, San Jose citizens agreed with the coalition, and voted 60% to 40% to enact a $10 city-wide minimum wage, with an annual increase based on the consumer price index. Ninety days after the election, it will be Time for Ten.