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[dc]“J[/dc]ustice matters!” This exclamation is an echo of, precursor to, or parallel with today’s many unfulfilled demands/appeals/petitions. These, in turn, mirror the needs and expectations of the countless millions among us who are far too invisible to far too many. Black lives do matter as do Brown and Gay. As do those of immigrants, the impoverished, and rank-and-file workers. As do all those who cannot earn a living wage despite working one full-time job, let alone two!

Justice Matters

The reality is that presently we are faced with a multitude of pressing issues. No sooner than we concentrate on one than another pops up—not to replace but to add to. Soon there are dozens, all of which demand our immediate attention—all of them with a layer of urgency attached to them.

But for our purposes here, let us concentrate on one that is prominent and persistent--one that simply cannot be ignored by those we elect to represent us and our most paramount interests. Just last week, the Los Angeles City Council made the long-awaited and courageous decision to raise wages for nearly all employees within City boundaries (incidentally, but not coincidentally, the County is currently considering required wage hikes within our unincorporated areas and most likely will come to a determination that will closely align with LA City’s rulings).

After a 14-1 vote, City Council sent the wage resolution to the office of the City Attorney, Mike Feuer, for the final draft wording which will then be put before the full Council in June for the final vote.

Important to note, Mitch Englander, District 12, was the sole Councilmember voting to defeat this very popular and widely supported motion—clearly siding with business interests over the welfare of the people who make their businesses profitable in the first place. His recent newsletter to his constituents falls far short in explaining his reasoning.

Many of us (including the 15 women who fasted for 15 days for $15 an hour) have been demanding that the higher wage be phased in more quickly and thus are disappointed with the timeline that is now being developed.

Yet, there is a very positive and promising side to the ultimate compromise that was made:

My fear, in the meantime, is that by July 2020, $15 will be worth much less—leaving workers to be challenged by the same deflated buying power they are facing now.

Beginning in July of 2016, minimum wage will rise to $10.50 ($1.50 more than the State requirement as of 2014), followed each year with a varied increase (averaging one dollar) until $15 is achieved by July of 2020. What is particularly impactful is that wages will then be increased, beginning in 2022, according to the COLA and, thus, workers will never again have to fall behind because of inflation. My fear, in the meantime, is that by July 2020, $15 will be worth much less—leaving workers to be challenged by the same deflated buying power they are facing now.

Furthermore, the new law will punish wage theft which is so rampant among businesses (large and small) that use lower-paid employees. Wage theft and other discriminatory decisions (including retaliation) are crimes that must be confronted head on and dealt with in so meaningful a way that such business practices will not only be discouraged but prevented altogether now and into the future. It is anticipated that this new law will include such provisions.

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It should also be noted that small businesses with 25 or fewer employees will be given an additional year at both ends to produce the required increased wages. Although many such businesses have already voluntarily begun paying their employees at more equitable rates, most such enterprises are also concerned that without a tax break to help offset the increases, their companies will no longer be viable.

To counter that claim, these smaller concerns in most cases do not currently pay enough in taxes, in the first place, to make giving them a further tax break a logical or pragmatic way to offset their additional costs for higher salaries (the extra year should be more than enough for them to make necessary and logical modifications in their management style).

Some individuals have suggested that, in lieu of a tax break for the smaller businesses, the City could offer free workshops to teach proprietors how to run their establishments with such efficiencies that they can achieve both higher wages for their workers and ongoing viability for themselves.

In my opinion, no one should even consider being in business if the employees cannot be treated in a way they need and deserve. When employees thrive, so does the economy, crime goes down, and acceptance rises, discrimination decreases. When people are treated fairly—with dignity and respect, invited to be genuine and contributing stakeholders in their communities—it will become evident that all people do matter and, at that point, justice will prevail for far more than what we see today—regardless of appearance, background, thoughts, practices, beliefs, and morés!

Keep in mind that just because we did not at this time get from City Council everything for which we asked, the final draft will include a number of momentous stipulations, one of which will be a rule regarding enforcement provisions (with meaningful penalties for violations). Unfortunately, paid earned sick leave, for which advocates have relentlessly been pushing, was separated from the main motion (though it is believed to be a point which will be reconsidered sooner-than-later).

This latter provision is especially necessary so that workers are able to stay home for their children or themselves when there is illness. It would be nothing short of counter-productive to expect to keep sickness at bay in the greater community when ill employees and their family members are up and about spreading disease (think of the recent measles outbreak that circulated so quickly). Thus, it is critical that the earned paid sick leave requirement be enacted without delay.

Let us also remember that parallel protests are being made among our brothers and sisters in the drayage profession. For many, if not most, they are driving “sweatshops on wheels” and yet there is still not enough public awareness to produce greater outcries about the continued abuses these drivers endure every day. We can appreciate the recent progress being made to help alleviate these concerns but cannot be complacent. There is still much more ahead of us to attain.

We can no more tolerate their poor salaries and unconscionable conditions than we can for any other worker in Los Angeles (let alone anywhere). And that is why we often find ourselves marching together, supporting each other’s causes (which in many ways are the same) and are gradually achieving varying degrees of success—the train (or the track or the march) is moving inexorably forward.

It was stated at the recent Giants of Justice—CLUE event, “Working people deserve more than modest aspirations.” And thus “we cannot run away from adversity but must run toward it to overcome it.”

In doing so, we shall discover a remarkable truth--that “the opposite of poverty is not wealth but justice!” And so we come full circle. Justice matters—with liberty and justice for all!

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Rosemary Jenkins