Gov’t Emails Cast Doubt On Berkeley Minimum Wage Study

Connor D. Wolf | Reporter

Private emails by Los Angeles city officials uncovered Monday renewed skepticism that an influential minimum wage study may have been biased.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti made the $15 minimum wage a priority for his city. The increase, however, faced scrutiny from across the country over the possibility of negative economic outcomes. Staff for the mayor encouraged the University of California, Berkeley over email July 2014 to conduct a study in their favor. The eventual study helped to mitigate criticism and was pivotal in convincing city residents to support the proposal.

“We’d like to get to the $15 level,” deputy chief of staff Rick Jacobs writes in an email obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation. “We need to demonstrate clearly how this will help labor and the economy in general. Thus, we need to understand the best way to arrive at a rate and at the impact therefrom.”

City officials highly encouraged university scholars to prove what the mayor already planned to do. Not long after the Center for Wage and Employment Dynamics (CWED) at the university released a study doing just that. Mayor senior adviser Jeff Millman emailed college faculty in September to thank them for helping to promote the proposal.

“Your research and analysis has been very important to this proposal,” Millman writes. “And will be relied upon by the journalist covering the event today and over the next few months. And for that we thank you.”

UC Berkeley was also commissioned by the city council to conduct a separate minimum wage study. Residents of the city voted that November in favor of the proposal. Lead Researchers Michael Reich and Jesse Rothstein dismiss accusations of bias.

“The first Los Angeles study was undertaken in 2014 at the request of Mayor Eric Garcetti,” they say in a statement to TheDCNF. “The second study, in 2015, was much deeper and broader than the first. It was commissioned by the Los Angeles City Council on the basis of a competitive bid process. An independent referee praised this study.”

“Our work at CWED, including on these two reports, meets the highest academic standards of objectivity and quality,” the statement continues. “We stand by them. We cannot comment on materials alleging otherwise that we have not seen.”

The emails were released as part of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The Employment Policies Institute (EPI) made the request earlier in the year after becoming suspicious the study was biased.

“It raises questions and suspicions of how independent the study really is,” EPI research director Michael Saltsman tells TheDCNF. “It cast doubts on whether this really is for city residents.”

Saltsman also notes the decision to work with Berkeley was an obvious choice. Much of the faculty focused on labor have backgrounds advocating for the $15 minimum wage. Labor Center chair Ken Jacobs for instance previously worked as a protest director for the Bay Area Organizing Committee. He also worked as a co-director for the San Francisco Living Wage Coalition. Both groups support the $15 minimum wage.

“The selection of the Berkeley folks was very much done on purpose,” Saltsman notes. “They commissioned that initial study to serve as a media piece.”

The proposal is designed to gradually raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour over the course of three years. The influence on university experts also appears to go beyond just the mayor. The National Employment Law Project (NELP) connected with other advocacy groups and Reich that October, to coordinate messaging before a press event.

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