Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday visited Bobrick Washroom Equipment Inc., a manufacturing firm headquartered in North Hollywood, in what his staff said was an effort to promote the importance of middle-class jobs and to boost the nationwide campaign to raise the minimum wage.
Prior to holding a news conference, Vice President Biden toured the Bobrick plant with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. The visit came a day after L.A. County approved a plan to gradually raise the minimum wage in unincorporated areas of the county to $15, mirroring legislation passed in May by the L.A. City Council.
Company President Mark Louchheim led Biden through a concrete-floored assembly room where employees in safety glasses were bent over their work stations building and testing soap dispensers.
"Our job is to hire talent," Louchheim said. Some of those at work had been employed at Bobrick for more than two decades.
Biden stopped to crack some jokes and talk with several workers who were hand-manufacturing the company's new model of automatic soap dispensers.
"Hi everybody, how are you?" Biden said over the whine of power tools. "I'm Joe Biden. I'm looking for a job."
Biden watched over the shoulder of Pamela Mesolella as she worked. Mesolella said she had worked at the company for 21 years.
In a speech on the factory floor afterward, Biden congratulated L.A. city and county officials for their wage-raising legislation, saying it would "change the circumstances" of those making the current $9-per-hour minimum wage.
"They are going to receive the equivalent of a raise of $4,800. Now for somebody in that circumstance, that's life-changing. It means you can maybe take your kid to a movie once a month and you couldn't do it before. It means you can maybe fill the tank of your car one more time," Biden said. "For people who have never worked for the minimum wage, who have never had to live on the minimum wage ... it's hard to understand how profound that change is."
By contrast, Biden said, the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour is inadequate, leading to annual earnings of just $14,500 a year.
Biden's visit to the Bobrick plant was just one of his planned stops during his trip to California. He was scheduled to return to Beverly Hills on Wednesday night to attend an event for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, the White House said.
Security on Biden's Southern California swing has been tighter than for the vice president's other recent events.
Earlier in the day, Los Angeles police said officers arrested Larry Ira Estrin, 62, at a vehicle checkpoint outside the Bobrick plant near Sherman Way and Lankershim Boulevard when a police dog helping screen cars signaled that it had detected a firearm.
Authorities found a loaded gun under the passenger seat and detained Estrin. He was being booked Wednesday afternoon on misdemeanor possession of a loaded firearm and was being held in lieu of $35,000 bail, said Sgt. Kyle Kirkman of the Los Angeles Police Department's North Hollywood Division.
Estrin of Los Angeles did not appear to be a political protester and simply may have forgotten he had the weapon in the car, police said.