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Key Panels Back Plan to Increase Workers’ Pay

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A bitterly contested proposal to boost pay and benefits for the minimum-wage employees of Los Angeles city contract holders and some other private firms won unanimous backing from key City Council committees Tuesday.

The vote by the council’s Personnel and Budget and Finance committees sent the long-debated proposal--dubbed the “living wage ordinance” by proponents--to the full City Council. It will be considered by the council as early as next week, said an aide to Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg, the proposal’s main architect.

The proposal has pitted the pro-labor council and a coalition of labor unions, clergy and community activists against Mayor Richard Riordan and a cross-section of the city’s business community.

Tuesday’s vote, attended by an overflow crowd of partisans from both sides, came after months of often emotional hearings and several revisions of the proposal.

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A scaled-back but still highly controversial version won committee approval after a report by the city’s top fiscal policy officials recommended its adoption.

The measure would require holders of city service contracts worth $25,000 or more and lasting for at least three months to pay their service workers at least $7.25 an hour with paid days off and health care benefits, or $8.50 without benefits. With some exceptions, it also would apply to many firms that receive substantial city subsidies or other financial aid, although they could ask the City Council for an exemption.

The proposal is aimed at improving the lot of some of the full-time workers whose minimum-wage jobs keep them mired in poverty and dependent on public health and other services. They include janitors, food service employees, parking attendants, nonprofessional health care workers, security guards and gardeners.

City officials and a UCLA researcher commissioned to analyze the proposal estimate that the measure would help nearly 5,000 such workers and would cost the city about $3.6 million a year and eliminate some jobs.

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It is hard to know what impact the ordinance would have on either the city’s budget or its economy, the researcher, UCLA law professor Richard H. Sander, told the committees. But he said later that “most of the unknowns” have been narrowed down through months of scrutiny and said the remaining issues “are mostly symbolic.”

Several business leaders attended the meeting to reiterate their contentions that the measure would cost jobs, drive up city costs and send a chilling message from a city trying to make itself more hospitable to private firms and the tax revenues they produce.

Questions remained whether the measure can be applied to the city’s semiautonomous departments--airports, harbor and water and power. The city attorney’s office has said no, but promised to consider new arguments from proponents and to issue a written opinion before the full council takes up the proposal.


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