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State Sen. Steve Padilla introduces bill to define 'living wage'

California State Sen. Steve Padilla (D-San Diego) recently introduced a bill that will codify what a “living wage” is for Californians.

Padilla defines a “living wage” as, “the wage that is necessary in order for you to meet basic needs, housing/shelter, putting food on the table, proper nutrition.”

“What my bill does for the first time, is say, ‘We need to, as a state agency working with the secretary of labor, working with the workforce development board, gather that data and show what a real living, housing wage looks like in California,’” Padilla said.


According to Padilla, California has never established how to best calculate that.

"This bill would require that data to be done by the state, to be done within the department and reported to the legislature every year,” Padilla said.

He said a data driven analysis can help those who are economically stranded in the entry-level portion of the workforce.

“We have a large agriculture industry in the state. We have fast food workers, Californians aren’t going to stop buying that. We’re not going to stop shopping at grocery stores. We’re not going to stop doing a lot of things, so there's a huge market in California on the consumer side and there’s a lot of labor that’s required to support that economy,” Padilla said.  

He said raising the minimum wage every year isn’t enough.


“Overall, people in the entry-level portion of our workforce, our total workforce in California, simply aren’t able to keep up with the inflationary costs of living,” Padilla said. “They have to work 80-90 hours a week, sometimes more, and they still cannot afford on those wages to even rent an apartment where they work and every Californian who works hard and works honest should be able to put a roof over their head.”

Todd Walters is the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 135. They represent more than 13,000 individuals who work in a variety of industries. Walters said people deserve a living wage, regardless of the perception of their job.

“There’s a lot of jobs that a lot of people will judge and say, ‘they don’t deserve that because it’s not skilled or it is skilled,'" Walters said. "This (bill) is going to take that subjectivity away from things and create a base level where we can say, ‘Hey, a worker’s a worker, whether they’re serving us food in a restaurant or putting groceries on shelves or processing our food."

Also, when everybody knows what the living wage is, Walters said, it helps the community understand what the unions are trying to do and what the workforce is trying to do.

“It gives us something tangible to reach out to see, this is what it is,” Walters said, “Too often you go into negotiations with some of these large employers, especially the ones that are making tons of money, and they’ll throw 50 cents or 20 cents out there, but that’s not putting food on the table.”

Padilla also said that this bill could help address the homeless issue in California.

“We talk about homelessness in California all the time and all over our region, right? Some of the folks on the streets and unsheltered are because just very recently, they were one catastrophe, one large bill, on wage earner, one breadwinner away from going from barely making it to being on the streets,” Padilla said. “If we’re really going to talk about housing and homelessness and poverty in California. We need to get our arms around what that really looks like.”

Padilla has this message for those who are working, but are also struggling to survive in California: “You matter. You shouldn’t be invisible. Your work is valuable because you contribute to the California economy and I want to make sure that you’re not forgotten. You’re not left behind in the conversations that we’re having. There shouldn’t be an invisible workforce in California.”

The bill will be presented to committees in March.