Los Angeles lawmakers upped the ante Tuesday in the drive for a higher minimum wage, unveiling a plan that is more aggressive than Mayor Eric Garcetti's proposed increase.
On the same day that Vice President Joe Biden threw his support behind Garcetti's plan, six members of the City Council prepared a measure that would pave the way for a $15.25-an-hour minimum wage by 2019 — a benchmark sought by labor leaders.
Garcetti had been looking to boost the minimum wage to $13.25 in 2017, then tie any increases after that to inflation. But council members Curren Price, Nury Martinez, Gil Cedillo, Mike Bonin, Paul Koretz and Paul Krekorian are seeking to go a step further, by initiating a study on how to raise the wage by an additional 15% two years later.
"The $13.25 figure gets most families that are living underneath the poverty line just over the poverty line, but that's still a precarious position," said Bonin, who represents part of the Westside. "That is one parking ticket or moving violation away from economic catastrophe for some families. So we wanted to give an added boost."
The proposal was announced on the day that Garcetti hosted a private roundtable discussion on the minimum wage with Biden and other Southern California politicians at a bakery in Lincoln Heights. Biden praised Garcetti's minimum wage plan before that discussion, saying the nation's middle class is "being clobbered."
"No one in America should be working 40 hours a week and living below the poverty level — no one," Biden said.
Garcetti called his $13.25 minimum wage proposal "a measured approach" to the issue that will "get the job done." Hours later, his spokesman, Jeff Millman, said the mayor supports the council members' plan to study a move to a $15.25 minimum wage in 2019.
The proposal was greeted with alarm by Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn., who predicted such a wage would drive up prices and result in "even more job loss in this city."
If the $15.25 minimum wage is approved, "you're going to lose all the mom-and-pop shops," he said. "It'll change the face of this city in a bad way."
Backers of the proposed minimum wage increase are looking for a vote early next year. In their proposal, the six council members portrayed the wage issue as one that affects the local economy. "Businesses in Los Angeles lose money each and every day when low-wage workers don't earn enough to shop at their stores," they said.
UC Berkeley economist Michael Reich, who has advised Garcetti, looked at the mayor's $13.25 wage proposal and concluded it is "the right amount," Millman said.
Reich said Tuesday that mandating a specific wage so many years into the future poses "a couple of risks" because it is unclear how much the economy will continue to expand or how high or low inflation will be. "There's risks to attaching a number today to something that's so far away from now," Reich said.
Reich said his study of Garcetti's proposal, prepared at the mayor's request, examined how a proposed minimum wage of $13.25 compares to the current $20.81 median full-time hourly wage in Los Angeles. Bumping wages to $13.25, he found, would be a more significant increase for Angelenos than a $15 wage in San Francisco, for example, because workers there earn more than in Los Angeles.
Reich said nobody knows at what minimum wage there would be job loss. If the city moves to a $15.25 minimum wage, "it takes you into an area where other cities have not yet gone," he said.
For months, labor leaders and community groups have been pressing lawmakers to push the minimum wage to $15. On Tuesday morning, representatives of unions and nonprofits stood on the steps of City Hall with workers who described the difference that higher pay would make in their lives.
"No one should have to choose whether they have to pay rent or pay for food," said Alberto Retana, executive vice president of Community Coalition of South Los Angeles.
After the latest minimum wage proposal was unveiled, county labor federation head Maria Elena Durazo praised the mayor and council members "for taking a major step forward in the fight to end poverty in our communities."
Several business leaders have voiced fears that a higher citywide minimum wage will drive business out of the city, hitting low-skilled workers especially hard.
Industry groups are already dismayed with the council's decision last week to boost the minimum wage at large hotels to $15.37. Carol Schatz, the head of the Central City Assn., a downtown business group, said the way in which that vote was handled left her with serious doubts about whether the latest proposal — and the issue of job losses — will be "thoughtfully weighed by the council."