Activists pitch L.A. ballot measure for citywide $15 minimum wage

Protesters demanding a $15-an-hour minimum wage demonstrate outside a McDonald's restaurant in Los Angeles last December.
(Christina House / For The Times)

A coalition of activists has taken the first step in a campaign for a $15 minimum wage for workers across Los Angeles, drafting language for a ballot measure that would follow in the footsteps of a boost recently approved in Seattle.

“This isn’t a pie-in-the-sky kind of thing,” said John Parker, an organizer with the Los Angeles Workers Assembly, a grassroots group backing the proposal. “It’s something that a lot of people are demanding.”

Last week, the group submitted a proposed ballot initiative to the city clerk’s office. Their proposal would require a $15 minimum wage for employees who work at least two hours a week for their employer, including workers who get tips. The required minimum would then rise annually, hitched to any increases in the consumer price index for the Los Angeles metropolitan area, according to the proposal.


If approved by voters, the boost would go into effect immediately for larger businesses, with a delay of less than two years for small businesses and nonprofits, Parker said. If the campaign nets enough signatures to get on the ballot, backers anticipate that the measure could go before voters as soon as next spring.

The bid to boost the minimum wage citywide follows other efforts to boost pay for some -- but not all -- Angelenos. The Los Angeles Unified School District recently opted to ramp up wages to at least $15 an hour for service workers such as cafeteria employees, custodians and teaching assistants.

Separately, city officials are drafting an ordinance that would require large hotels to pay at least $15.37 an hour. But some local politicians -- including Mayor Eric Garcetti -- raised concerns about singling out hotel workers for a minimum wage increase.

“I feel like there’s a lot of workers left behind,” Garcetti said last month about the proposed hike for hotel workers. He could not immediately be reached Monday for comment on the new, citywide proposal.

Backers believe those earlier efforts will ease the way for a $15 minimum for all workers. “People on the streets have heard about the other initiatives. ... They realize that $10 or $9 isn’t enough,” Parker said.

California’s minimum wage recently rose to $9 an hour and will reach $10 by 2016. But the idea of a $15 minimum has been gaining momentum in the state and elsewhere.

Seattle recently approved a gradual move to a $15-an-hour minimum, and San Francisco voters are slated to decide whether to follow suit in November. Because the Los Angeles initiative, if approved, would take effect immediately, it would give L.A. the highest minimum wage nationwide, at least for a time, Parker said.

“L.A. will hopefully set a national precedent,” said Sharon Black, a national coordinator with Peoples Power Assemblies, which helped form the Los Angeles group. “If L.A. is able to successfully pass this, it will put pressure on the rest of cities and states to follow through.”

To get onto the ballot in Los Angeles, an initiative would need nearly 62,000 signatures, according to the city clerk’s office.

Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry & Commerce Assn., argued that a $15 minimum wage was too steep and would push businesses out of the city.

“If we want to drive people to Texas, this is the first thing to do,” Waldman said. “$15 is just so drastic. ... It’ll make L.A. an attractive place for workers, but there won’t be any jobs for those workers.”

Backers counter that higher wages would pump more money into the local economy. The proposal sent to the city clerk’s office calls it “an economic stimulus for low-income neighborhoods.”

The Los Angeles Workers Assembly plans to hold a gathering Saturday at Los Angeles Trade and Technical College to officially launch its campaign. Groups backing the new proposal include Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace, Southern California Immigration Coalition and the Los Angeles Peace Council.

Follow @latimesemily for what’s happening at Los Angeles City Hall