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Los Angeles County Board OKs $15 per hour minimum wage by 2020

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Union members in Los Angeles demonstrating for higher minimum wage. AJPRESS PHOTO

LOS ANGELES — Cheers erupted when the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted on Tuesday, July 21, to officially increase the minimum wage to $15 by 2020. However, the supervisors now face a more daunting political challenge — convincing other local governments to join the movement.

The widely anticipated move by the country’s largest local government applies to unincorporated areas and thousands of employees, mirroring a similar action by the City of LA. Within a few years, according to reports, more than half of the countywide workforce will be guaranteed a base income more than 60 percent higher than the current rate of $9 an hour.

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Under the county plan, approved on a split vote with two Republican board members opposed, all workers would reach at least a $15 an hour minimum by 2021, tracking the city of Los Angeles.

Before the vote, union members and other supporters crowded the downtown Hall of Administration board room, carrying signs and wearing shirts that read “Fight for $15.”

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David Green, a union representative for county social workers, said low-paid workers “end up in long lines of our already overburdened social services system.”

Business opposition

Though many business representatives opposed the wage increase, some thanked the supervisors for moving to set up a small business team to develop efforts to help ease the transition to higher minimum wages by 2020, such as waiving business permit fees.

Los Angeles county cities like Santa Monica and West Hollywood are considering their own wage hikes. Many other local cities—such as Glendale, Pasadena, Santa Clarita, Torrance and Long Beach—have yet to decide whether to boost wages.

Some economists, local business owners and public officials warned that a patchwork of new pay policies could set off economically disruptive competition for workers and employers who produce jobs.

Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford said his city was still recovering from the recession and couldn’t afford a wage hike. “Some businesses in nearby unincorporated communities have voiced concern about the county’s wage boost and inquired about having their areas annexed by the city to avoid increased labor costs,” Ledford said.

“I think it will put those businesses at a distinct disadvantage, and people will now shop in Palmdale,” he added.

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Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, whose district includes the desert city, argued a similar point during Tuesday’s debate on the wage proposal.

“In county-controlled areas, it reduces a business’ competitive advantage,” Antonovich said. “Especially in unincorporated areas that are literally across the street from incorporated cities.”

Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek said elected officials would begin discussions next week on a process to consider a wage increase.

“We should be supportive of this regional effort,” Tornek said, adding that his city chose to wait until LA County as a whole would act. “I thought [Los Angeles city and county] could do a lot of the homework, quite frankly, so we didn’t have to reinvent the wheel.”

Shouldn’t be piecemeal

Officials in other California cities said the base wage should be set on a statewide or national rate, rather than piecemeal by individual cities. In Torrance, where the minimum wage hike has not yet been discussed, Mayor Pat Furey said establishing pay requirements municipality by municipality “pits us against one another.”

Glendale is in “wait-and-see mode,” said Mayor Ara Najarian.

“Glendale is fortunate enough to be in the situation where we can sit back and watch this measure take effect [in LA city and county-administered communities] and actually have empirical evidence as to what the impact is,” he said.

Chris Tilly, director of the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, said the county’s move “puts both economic and political pressure on smaller cities in LA County.”

“Areas with a higher minimum wage will attract the most talented of the low end of the work force away from the lower-wage areas. Some manufacturing operations could move to areas with cheaper labor costs, but restaurants and retail businesses that choose sites based on customer demand aren’t likely to relocate” Tilly said.

“Certainly more liberal mayors are going to feel pressure to show they’re at least as enlightened as Los Angeles and the county,” he added.

Political tipping point

Supporters hope the combined actions by California’s two largest local governments reach a political tipping point, and help to accelerate similar wage policies not just in the Western region, but across the nation.

“It’s been decades and decades of work trying to convince American society that it makes sense to pay everyone a fair wage,” said Westside and San Fernando Valley Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who led the push for the county increase.

East County Supervisor Hilda Solis, who along with central county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas joined Kuehl in the majority approving the raise, said it was a “historic day for the county.”

LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, who has been trying to rally cities in a citywide campaign to join the move to a higher base pay, urged the supervisors to approve the proposal. “The nation is watching what we do here in Los Angeles as a region,” he said.

Antonovich and coastal and south county Supervisor Don Knabe opposed the higher wage plan, arguing it would adversely affect businesses in unincorporated communities, which make up the majority of the county’s land mass.

Knabe joined the majority in approving a $15 minimum wage for the county’s 100,000 employees. The board also adopted increased base wages for county contractors and agreed to explore the creation of an enforcement program to ensure workers are properly compensated.

Sung Won Sohn, an economist at Cal State Channel Islands, said municipalities that do not raise the minimum wage could entice companies to relocate within their boundaries. “The increased demand for labor would probably lead to a rise in the minimum wage in those communities,” Sohn said, “though not likely as high as $15 an hour.”

“In purely economic terms, it’s simply a matter of supply and demand,” he continued.

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TAGS: City of LA, living wage movement, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, movement raise U.S. minimum wage, Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford, Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek, Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich
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