Minimum wage laws vary sharply across U.S. cities

Minimum wage laws vary sharply across U.S. cities
Maria Elena Durazo, president of the national labor organization Unite Here,embraces Alma Romero, a housekeeper, while celebrating the Los Angeles City Council's tentative agreement to raise the city's minimum wage to $15 per hour. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Assuming Los Angeles lawmakers vote as expected Wednesday to increase the minimum wage, the city will join San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle and other municipalities that have boosted base pay for workers.

But a comparison shows the similarities largely stop there. Details of the plans and how they would apply to different types of employers and workers vary considerably from city to city.


L.A,'s proposal would increase the minimum wage to $10.50 on July 1. It would then increase every year until it reaches $15 on July 1, 2020. Businesses with 25 or fewer employees would have an additional year to comply.

Nonprofits with 26 or more employees could delay implementation for a year if they meet one of these criteria:

--The chief executive makes less than five times the lowest wage paid to an employee;

--The nonprofit hires transitional employees as part of workforce training programs;

--The nonprofit provides child care;

--It is funded primarily by government grants.

Teenagers also would be treated differently. Those between 14- and 17-years-old and classified as "learners" could be paid 85% of the minimum wage for the first 160 weeks on the job.

Los Angeles officials say the new pay requirements would apply to any employee who works at least two hours a week within the city.  And, as currently drafted, unionized employees would not be exempt from the minimum wage law.

Highlights of the programs adopted by other cities:

Seattle: The minimum wage will reach $15/hour in 2017. Companies with 500 or fewer workers will have a slower phase-in period. They must reach the $15 threshold by 2019, or 2021 if they provide medical benefits. A covered employee is anyone who works in the city for more than two hours in a two-week period.  The law does not include an exemption for workers covered by collective bargaining agreements.

San Francisco: In July of 2018, the minimum wage will reach $15 for employees who work at least two hours in a week. The ordinance applies to both adults and teenagers. However, unionized workers may reach their own agreements with employers that pay different wages. Tips do not count toward the minimum wage.

Oakland: As in San Francisco, employees who work at least two hours in a week are covered by the law. As of March 2, the minimum wage was $12.25. The hourly wage will continue to increase every year on Jan. 1 based on the Consumer Price Index. Teenagers may earn the full minimum wage, but unionized employees may be exempt. Tipped employees also receive the full wage.

Chicago: The minimum hourly wage will be $13 by 2019. Employees under the age of 18 may be paid 50 cents less per hour. That's also true for other employees within the first 90 days on the job. Unionized workers can negotiate a different wage structure. Employers may pay tipped workers less than the city's minimum wage.

Washington, D.C.: Wages will increase to $11.50 in July 2016. There is no exemption for workers covered by collective bargaining agreements. Restaurant employees may be paid $2.77 per hour, as long as they make enough in tips to bring them up to the district's minimum wage.


The Los Angeles City Council is expected to take up the minimum wage ordinance on Wednesday at its 10 a.m. meeting.