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California Aims To Raise Minimum Wage To $15 An Hour

San Diego still has a minimum wage increase measure on the June ballot

Photo by Katie Schoolov

Protesters gathered in downtown San Diego to demand a higher minimum wage, Nov. 10, 2015.

Deal Reached To Take California Minimum Wage To $15 An Hour

GUEST:

Ben Adler, bureau chief, Capital Public Radio

Transcript

Audio

"It's a matter of economic justice, it makes sense, and will help our entire state do much better for its citizens," Gov. Jerry Brown said.

Gov. Jerry Brown joined fellow Democrats and labor leaders Monday in touting California's proposal to gradually lift the minimum wage to $15 an hour as an answer to the growing challenge of income disparity.

"It's a matter of economic justice, it makes sense, and will help our entire state do much better for its citizens," the Democratic governor said.

Under the proposal, the state's minimum wage would reach $15 an hour by January 2022, rising in increments starting with a boost from $10 to $10.50 on Jan 1, 2017. Businesses with 25 or fewer employees would have an extra year to comply, and the governor could delay annual increases in times of budgetary or economic downturns.

Wages would increase to keep up with inflation after 2023.

San Diego wage hike unaffected

San Diego voters will still vote on the city’s proposed minimum wage increase on June 7. If that measure passes, San Diego’s minimum wage would be 50 cents higher than the state’s for the rest of 2016 and $1 higher for all of 2017. After then, the state’s wage increases would supercede San Diego’s.

The local wage ordinance would, however, go further than the state’s with the number of paid sick days employers would have to offer. San Diego’s ordinance would would require at least five, while the state’s would have three.

Sean Karafin, executive director of policy and economic research for the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, said while local businesses had been worried about San Diego’s wage increase, the state’s proposal would be even tougher to accept.

“The sheer volume of this increase is by far the largest concern of small businesses,” he said. “They’re going to have to look for ways to keep their doors open. For a lot of businesses that means cutting benefits, cutting hours or even cutting jobs.”

City Councilman Todd Gloria said the state proposal was “an affirmation of the leadership San Diego showed” when the City Council passed its minimum wage increase in 2014. A signature-gathering campaign backed by the business community ultimately forced the measure to a public vote.

Gloria said the local increase was still important “to help San Diegans pay for rent, food and other everyday household expenses.”

State bill could pass this week

The increases would benefit 5.6 million workers — 32 percent of the statewide workforce, said Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles. He called it a "staggering statistic."

"In the wealthiest state in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one, no one who works full time should be forced to live in poverty," de Leon said. "Wages have stagnated for decades while consumer costs, corporate profits and executive bonuses have skyrocketed."

Lawmakers in the Assembly and Senate could send the bill to Brown's desk as early as Thursday, said Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco. They will amend the new version onto Leno's SB3, a less-sweeping minimum wage bill that cleared the Senate last year but stalled in an Assembly committee.

The bill needs a majority of votes to pass the Legislature, and Democrats control both chambers.

The National Federation of Independent Business warned against adding to what it called an already onerous burden on small businesses. The group's California arm said a 50 percent boost in the minimum wage would further harm the state's already poor business reputation.

Assembly Minority Leader Chad Mayes, R-Yucca Valley, said in a statement that the move could actually harm the communities it is designed to assist by adding to the overall cost of living. That may make "the California dream even less attainable for our middle class and low-income families," he said.

Brown said he thinks business will have little choice and must eventually accept the proposed legislation, if only because it is more conservative than alternatives pushed by labor organizations.

Legislative approval of a minimum-wage package would avoid taking the issue to the ballot. One union-backed initiative has already qualified for the ballot, and a second, competing measure is also trying to qualify.

At $10 an hour, California already has one of the highest minimum wages in the nation along with Massachusetts. Only Washington, D.C., at $10.50 per hour is higher. The hike to $15 in California would make it the highest statewide wage in the nation by far, though raises are in the works in other states that might change by the time the plateau is reached in 2022.

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