Los Angeles City Hall. Photo by John Schreiber.
Los Angeles City Hall. Photo by John Schreiber.

The minimum wage in Los Angeles would rise to $15 an hour by 2020 for large employers, with a one-year delay for businesses with 25 or fewer workers, under a proposal backed Wednesday by a City Council committee.

Under the proposal approved on a 7-0 vote of the Economic Development Committee, the wage would go up each July, starting with an increase to $10.50 in 2016 for businesses with 26 or more employees.

The wage would go up to $12 an hour by July 2017, $13.25 per hour by 2018, $14.25 per hour by 2019 and ultimately to $15 by 2020, under the proposal.

Once the wage reaches $15 per hour for both small and large employers, the proposal calls for the minimum wage in 2022 to continue increasing based on the average cost-of-living increases of the past 20 years.

The recommendation will now go to the full City Council. If the plan is approved, the city attorney would need to prepare an ordinance and bring it back to the council for a final vote.

The wage hikes advanced by the committee would move at a slower pace than Mayor Eric Garcetti’s proposal to raise the minimum wage to $13.25 per hour by 2017, but it would go further than the mayor’s plan by increasing the wage to $15 by 2020.

Some council members, including Mike Bonin, had advocated for the higher wage rate, and wanted a $15.25 per hour minimum wage to be reached by 2019, a year earlier than the one recommended by the committee.

Bonin does not sit on the Economic Development Committee, but will be able to weigh in on the wage hike proposal when it reaches the full council. He said he is “pretty happy” with today’s committee action, considering the mayor had not wanted the wage to go to $15 per hour until “a few years later” than what he and others had proposed.

The Economic Development Committee’s wage plan is similar to a proposal released last week by Councilman Paul Krekorian, who said he wanted a slower pace than what was being proposed in the $13.25 per hour plan by Garcetti and the $15.25 per hour plan by Bonin and other City Council members.

Councilman Curren Price, who chairs the Economic Development Committee, called the minimum wage discussion “the civil rights issue of our time,” and said prior to the vote that raising the wage “isn’t just a moral imperative — it is good sound economic policy.”

“And one of the several tools we need to be using to address poverty is raising the minimum wage, because our city  cannot thrive if more than a million of our residents is living in poverty,” he said.

But some expressed impatience today at the pace of the wage hikes being debated by the City Council. Los Angeles resident Brenda Smith told the committee there is an immediate need for raising the minimum wage.

“The economy is not keeping up with the wages that we’re making,” with milk costing $4 a gallon, and eggs costing the same, the mother of eight said.

“All we want is the $15. We don’t want it 2019 — we want it now,” Smith said.

The proposal moving to the council reflects a partial victory for businesses that have advocated for a more gradual pace to the wage hikes and some exceptions for smaller businesses.

Representatives of businesses and other employers asked the committee to slow down the wage increase or to exempt certain workers, with some saying smaller businesses especially could suffer financial hardship.

They asked for exceptions to be made for teenagers, nonprofit employees and workers who receive tips, as well as participants in temporary transitional programs that serve recently incarcerated people, the homeless and others who face challenges in finding jobs.

Several major business groups failed to convince the committee to eliminate the provision calling for continued increases based on cost-of-living increases, once the wage reaches $15 per hour. Restaurant owners had also been asking that tips be counted toward attaining the minimum wage, but the proposal does not address that issue.

City attorneys said it would be illegal under state law to include tips as part of the minimum wage. An attorney for a restaurant owners group earlier this week had threatened to sue the city if no exceptions were made for tipped workers.

City News Service

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