LA City Council Considers Minimum Wage Hike Over Next Five Years

(FOX 11 / CNS) The push to raise the minimum wage in Los Angeles will land today before the City Council, which will consider a proposal that would gradually increase the wage over the next five years and reach $15 an hour by 2020 for larger employers.

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The council's Economic Development Committee last week approved a plan that would boost the wage beginning in July 2016, when it would jump from $9 to $10.50 an hour for businesses with 26 or more employees. The wage would go up to $12 an hour by July 2017, $13.25 per hour by July 2018, $14.25 per hour by July 2019 and ultimately to $15 by July 2020, under the proposal.

Businesses with 25 or fewer employees would have until 2021 to reach the $15-an-hour mark.

Once the wage reaches $15 per hour for both small and large employers, the proposal calls for the minimum wage in 2022 to continue increasing based on the average cost-of-living increases over the past 20 years.

If the council backs the plan today, city attorneys will draft an ordinance that will have to come back to the council for a final vote.

The proposed wage hikes would move at a slower pace than Mayor Eric Garcetti's proposal to raise the minimum wage to $13.25 per hour by 2017, but it would go further than Garcetti's plan by increasing the wage to $15 by 2020.

Some council members, including Mike Bonin, have advocated for the higher wage rate and want a $15.25 per hour minimum wage to be reached by 2019, a year earlier than the one recommended by the committee.

Bonin is not a member of the Economic Development Committee but will be able to weigh in on the wage increase proposal today.

The wage plan being considered by the council is similar to a proposal released recently by Councilman Paul Krekorian, who said he wanted a slower pace than what was being proposed in the $13.25 per hour plan by Garcetti and the $15.25 per hour plan by Bonin and other council members.

The slower pace of the proposed increases would be a victory for business groups that complained that a faster increase would be a burden for business owners who might be forced to lay off workers.

Business groups asked for exceptions to be made for teenagers, employees of nonprofit organizations and workers who receive tips, as well as participants in temporary transitional programs that serve recently incarcerated people, the homeless and others who face challenges in finding jobs.

Several major business groups failed to persuade the council committee to eliminate the provision calling for continued increases based on cost-of-living increases, once the wage reaches $15 per hour. Restaurant owners had also been asking that tips be counted toward attaining the minimum wage, but the proposal does not address that issue.

Representatives of the City Attorney's Office said it would be illegal under state law to include tips as part of the minimum wage. An attorney for a restaurant owners group earlier this week threatened to sue the city if no exceptions were made for tipped workers.

Supporters of a $15 minimum wage hike plan said the committee's proposal is too slow.

Laphonza Butler, president of SEIU California, which represents 700,000 workers, including state employees, janitors, nurses, private security officers and others, told City News Service the proposed timetable for the wage hikes is "a bit disappointing" and said she hoped the full council will consider a "quicker response" to the needs of "struggling" working families.

The wage plan approved by the committee included a provision requiring businesses to provide workers with as many as 12 days of paid leave. But following criticism by Mayor Eric Garcetti and opposition from business groups, the council is likely to ask its staff to develop recommendations for a citywide paid leave policy.

The council is also expected to consider the creation of an Office of Labor Standards, which would impose penalties on employers for each day wages are not paid to workers, operate an administrative appeals process, revoke city permits if an employer commits wage violations, and protect workers against retaliation from employees.

Labor groups have been pushing for the city to take an aggressive approach against wage theft. Dozens of people marched to City Hall on Monday to rally in support of the wage-theft division.

Los Angeles workers lose $1 billion from their paychecks through labor violations committed by their employers, according to a UCLA study cited by SEIU. Wage theft could include workers not getting paid overtime, getting misclassified as independent contractors and getting paid lower than the minimum wage.

Members of the City Council recently proposed including $500,000 in the upcoming year's budget to fund the division, which would be staffed with up to five people.

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