By Alex Dobuzinskis
(Reuters) - Emmeryville, a small city in the San Francisco Bay Area, has given initial approval to the nation's highest minimum wage by setting baseline pay at $16 an hour in 2019, with gradual increases leading up to that level.
The 5-0 vote on Tuesday by the city council in Emmeryville, a community of about 10,000 residents, follows moves by several major U.S. cities to sharply raise their minimum wages.
The federal minimum wage has remained at $7.25 since 2009. Labor and religious groups have despaired of wringing an increase from the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress and have instead pressed local governments in liberal-leaning areas to enact their own increases.
The Emmeryville proposal faces a final approval vote on May 19. It would take effect on July 1, when the minimum wage would rise to $14.44 an hour for businesses with at least 55 workers and $12.25 for smaller companies, city documents show.
It would increase gradually every year until it reaches $16 for all businesses in 2019.
"Just as our workers are creative enough to make a living off of minimum wage and support their families, I think our businesses will be creative enough to make it work and we'll all lift up together," Emmeryville City Councilwoman Dianne Martinez said at the meeting on Tuesday.
No other community in the United States has set a minimum wage target higher than $16, said Jennifer Lin, deputy director for the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, which supports the measure.
Emmeryville is known as a regional destination for shoppers at big box retail outlets, such as Ikea and Home Depot, and Lin said it has thousands of workers who commute from other cities.
A representative from the California Chamber of Commerce declined to comment on the proposal.
Opponents of minimum wage hikes say they place an undue burden on businesses and force some employers to lay off workers and pass on higher labor costs to consumers.
Seattle is phasing in a minimum wage hike, with the level set to reach $15 an hour over the next three to seven years, depending on the size of the business.
Voters in San Francisco last November approved a measure to gradually raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2018.
California's minimum wage is $9, making it one of more than 20 states with a higher wage than the federal level.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Eric Walsh)