Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Thursday that a City Council proposal to raise the minimum wage should not move ahead without further scrutiny of a largely overlooked piece of the plan that could also require businesses to grant their workers a specific number of paid days off.
"It's unstudied, and it's big; I would be very uncomfortable without any study," Garcetti said of the provision, which went mostly unmentioned in Wednesday's deliberations over the plan to hike the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020.
The requirement could be a major new expense for business owners already complaining about the legislation's effect on their bottom line. Garcetti said he and his staff were only now digesting the mandate's effect after council members "just thrust that in there" in the 11th hour of deliberations, a criticism echoed by business associations Thursday.
"This issue was never brought up once in discussions," said Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn. He said the new provision was "completely snuck in" without public debate.
Council President Herb Wesson, who voted for the wage plan earlier this week, said the concept of paid time off came up repeatedly in public comment during hearings on the wage proposal.
"I don't believe the mayor intended to call into question the knowledge and expertise of the elected council members who collectively have over 100 years of legislative experience," Wesson said in a statement.
The issue of paid time off was broached Wednesday, when the council's Economic Development Committee endorsed the plan for hiking the wage. During that session, Councilman Curren Price said a proposed ordinance should include rules on paid time off "consistent with previous city wage policies."
Under L.A.'s living wage ordinance, which applies to city contractors, employers are required to provide at least 12 compensated days off for sick leave, vacation or other personal needs. Another city wage law, approved last year for big hotels, also mandated 12 days of paid time off.
Price spokeswoman Connie Llanos said Thursday that the wording does not necessarily mean that the citywide wage ordinance would require 12 paid days off. However, the goal was to include some policy language addressing sick days and vacation, she said.
Garcetti declined to say whether he would veto the minimum wage ordinance if it remains in its current form, including the paid time off. He said that legislation requiring paid days off "should be a separate track" from the rest of the minimum wage plan.
"I want to be clear — that doesn't mean I wouldn't support it," the mayor said of the effort to require paid time off. "It just means these things need to be studied."
The Raise the Wage Coalition, which has campaigned to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour as soon as possible, said it supported earned sick leave as part of any minimum wage policy.
"We have said from Day 1 that at least $15 an hour, earned sick leave and protections against wage theft are key components to a meaningful minimum wage policy," said Rusty Hicks, head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. "When hardworking people are forced to choose between paying their rent or staying at home when they're sick, they'll choose the former."
The full council is expected to vote Tuesday on whether to draft rules increasing the wage.
For months, city lawmakers have debated how quickly and how high the minimum wage should increase and whether some kinds of employers should get a slower schedule. But vacation and other time off have not been a major part of the debate. Three studies of the economic effects of boosting wages requested by city officials did not address paid time off, said Chief Legislative Analyst Sharon Tso, who advises the council on policy.
Business leaders were already unhappy with the timing of Wednesday's minimum wage vote, which occurred at a special meeting called with one day's notice. A day before that meeting, city policy analysts released a report raising the question of whether the new rules should include paid time off similar to that required under another ordinance hiking wages for hotel workers.
Critics of the wage plan contend the proposal for paid time off was introduced at the last minute, after a series of public hearings on the minimum wage.
"Never did this come up, so it's just another abuse of the process," said Carol Schatz, president and chief executive of the Central City Assn., a downtown-based business group.