Promising to provide relief for families enduring "back-breaking poverty," Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti on Saturday signed into law a measure raising the citywide minimum wage to $15 by 2020.
A crowd of more than 500 joined Garcetti in South Los Angeles, where he predicted the measure would help more than 600,000 Angelenos pay their rent, provide for their children and build their savings accounts. The measure, he said, would serve as a national model.
"This is about the idea, that American ideal, that when someone works hard, they should be able to support themselves, and they should be able to support their families," he told the crowd.
The wage ordinance is the most ambitious policy initiative of Garcetti's first term, which reaches the halfway mark July 1. The signing ceremony, which featured speeches from council members, labor leaders and low-wage workers, sounded at some moments like a reelection campaign event. Garcetti also boasted of the city's rising employment numbers, growing tourism activity and construction of five new rail lines.
Laphonza Butler, president of the Service Employees International Union chapter that represents home care employees, called Garcetti "a champion for workers" and said the wage increase showed the city is experiencing a "revolution of values" and putting workers first.
"For every young person that has watched your mother struggle to put food on the table ... welcome to the revolution," she told the audience.
The measure will take effect next month. But the first increase won't come until July 2016, when the citywide hourly minimum moves to $10.50. The state's minimum wage is set to reach $10 in January 2016, up from the current $9.
The measure Garcetti signed is somewhat different from the one he unveiled nine months ago. The mayor's original plan called for the minimum wage to reach $13.25 in 2017. But the council reworked the plan, ensuring it will hit that amount in 2018 for businesses with 26 or more employees and in 2019 for companies with 25 or fewer workers.
It remains unclear how many cities in Southern California will follow L.A.'s lead. Of the 87 other cities in Los Angeles County, only a few — West Hollywood and Santa Monica, for example — have signaled their intent to pursue a similar wage increase.
Because the move to $15 will be phased in, businesses won't initially experience major change, said researcher Christopher Thornberg. As the hourly minimum approaches $15, companies will start to consider moving to communities with lower minimum wages that surround L.A., he said. Thornberg analyzed the potential effects of the wage increase for the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, which opposed the measure.
"This is a city that's already behind, that's already fighting an uphill battle" in the competition for jobs, said Thornberg, founding partner of the firm Beacon Economics.
Garcetti attempted to answer critics during the signing ceremony, saying that increasing the minimum wage had drawn support from business leaders like Rick Caruso, the developer of the Grove shopping center, and billionaire Eli Broad.
"We would not have done this," Garcetti told the crowd, "if we believed this would hurt our economy."