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Updated at 4:27 p.m. June 30, 2015

Transitional job programs that help people who face challenges finding work would be exempted from the city’s recently adopted $15 minimum wage plan under an amendment backed by the Los Angeles City Council today.

The council instructed city attorneys to draft the exemption, which would apply to nonprofits that operate programs aimed at ex-offenders, the homeless, at-risk youth or others who typically face obstacles in finding jobs.

Instead of paying the city minimum wage, workers taking part in those programs would be paid the state minimum wage, instead of the city’s wage, for the first 18 months. The state minimum wage is $9 and set to rise to $10 on Jan. 1.

The exemption is being pushed by Chrysalis, the Los Angeles Conservation Corps and Homeboy Industries, all nonprofit organizations that run transitional programs. Their representatives, including several workers taking part in the transitional job programs, say the carve-out is needed to avoid having to cut back on the number of people the programs can serve.

Two labor unions — Service Employees International Union, Local 721, and the SEIU United Service Workers West — also support the exemption.

SEIU Local 721 President Bob Schooner hailed the council’s support for the exemption, saying that it “ensures access to the long-lasting life skills and training experience these nonprofits provide.”

“The exemption keeps these nonprofits on the right track of creating pathways for families to escape vicious cycles of poverty through a provision of training and support services,” Schoonover said. “Their work is indispensable to balancing the odds and opening doors for such a unique population.”

In a letter to the City Council dated Monday, SEIU-USWW President David Huerta said he was “skeptical” of the proposed exemption because he feels no worker should receive a “subminimum wage.”

But he said he saw “an outpouring of compelling testimony from program participants who feel that their jobs and the jobs of future participants could be in jeopardy.” And while he disagrees “with those individuals,” he feels “it is reasonable to extend some flexibility to this small group of organizations, as they mitigate the effects of a raise in the minimum wage.”

The proposed amendment is one of several tweaks being considered for the already-adopted minimum wage law. The council’s Economic Development Committee expected to meet over the next several months to also consider a possible paid sick leave that goes above the three days mandated by the state, and a proposed exemption for employers who have union contracts with their workers.

Under the $15 minimum wage law signed into law by Mayor Eric Garcetti earlier this month, the first increase to $10.50 will go into effect on July 1, 2016, for businesses with 26 or more employees.

The wage will eventually reach $15 by 2020 for larger businesses, and by 2021 for businesses with 25 or fewer workers.

—City News Service

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