L.A. minimum wage up for discussion; business group says issue rushed

Increasing citywide minimum wage to be discussed at special hearing Wednesday afternoon

Los Angeles lawmakers are expected to take up the question of increasing the citywide minimum wage at a special hearing Wednesday afternoon, one that could begin the final process of hammering out crucial details of the hotly contested plan.

A group of business leaders sharply complained that the city was rushing the process because the meeting agenda was not released until midday Tuesday, giving people little time to rearrange work schedules or make other plans to attend.

The Valley Industry & Commerce Assn. called it “yet another example of the cards being stacked against the business community regarding this particular issue.”

But the head of the committee, City Councilman Curren Price, said the city had followed guidelines for informing people and that the discussion would go on well beyond Wednesday because the whole council would still have to vote on drafting and later adopting an ordinance.

City officials are widely expected to approve some kind of wage boost this spring, with broad agreement among council members and the mayor that some increase is needed to ease poverty. But the sticking points have been details such as how quickly the required wage would increase and whether some kinds of employers would be left out.

Mayor Eric Garcetti proposed raising the minimum wage in Los Angeles to $13.25 an hour by 2017, but some lawmakers have suggested going a step further and requiring workers to be paid at least $15.25 an hour by 2019. Yet another plan recently floated among lawmakers would slow that schedule to reach $15.25 by two or three years.

Also up for debate is whether small businesses and some nonprofits should get extra time to raise their minimum pay or be exempted altogether, and whether tips can or should be counted into pay requirements, as a coalition of restaurant owners has argued. That group has threatened legal action if the city does not adjust the new wage requirements in some way for restaurant workers who get tips.

To examine such issues, L.A. lawmakers have held a string of hearings across the city and discussed three studies about the economic effects of the plans, as well as a peer review of the three studies. The Wednesday hearing at a council committee, however, is expected to advance the discussion to the next phase: deciding the details of the minimum wage plan.

The hearing will begin at 2 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall downtown. Because the council can turn down requests to speak on an issue if it hasalready heard from the public in committee, the hearing represents a vital opportunity for people to speak up, said Valley Industry & Commerce Assn. President Stuart Waldman.

“Now is your last chance to share your personal stories with our city councilmembers,” his group said in an email sent to members.

In reaction, Price said that “contrary to what's being put out there erroneously, the discussion will continue at both the council and committee level.” He added that his council committee “has heard from hundreds of constituents and stakeholders to inform their discussion on this issue, including at four community hearings held throughout the city.”

City leaders have followed “a thorough process where every part of the community, either for or against, got a chance to raise their concerns,” said Laphonza Butler, one of the conveners of the Raise the Wage Campaign, which has advocated to increase wages to at least $15.25 an hour.

“We shouldn’t get distracted by this process question,” Butler said.

Garcetti floated his plan in September, Butler added, and since then, “hundreds of Angelenos are still having to work in poverty.... That’s the problem we should be solving. Not what kind of process we use.”

Even if lawmakers decide to press forward with a minimum wage increase plan, the Wednesday hearing would not be the final step in the process: The full council still must weigh in on whether to ask City Atty. Mike Feuer to draft an ordinance raising wages, and any such ordinance would still need approval from lawmakers once drafted.

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times


May 12, 4:13 p.m. This post has been updated to add comments from the Raise the Wage Campaign. It was originally published at 2:45 p.m.