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Victory is almost here!

LA Minimum Wage

Los Angeles Steps Forward on Minimum Wage -- Rosemary Jenkins

On Wednesday, June 3, the Los Angeles City Council (the second largest city in the nation) cast an historic vote on behalf of this City’s workers. Council President Herb Wesson stated that this vote may well be the single most important vote these officials will ever cast.

Councilmember Mike Bonin added that his heart was full as he recognized the significance of what the Council was accomplishing with this singular vote. He compared what Martin Luther King, Jr., was doing when he marched on behalf of the sanitation workers in Tennessee (during which time he was assassinated), demanding a reasonable minimum wage—all those years ago. Now LA is helping to complete King’s ambitious goals.

Nury Martinez gave a heart-felt commentary when she reminded us all of the ongoing struggles of the masses of “invisible” people amongst us who are battling every day to achieve dignity and self-esteem while working to create a healthy standard of living for their families. She reminded us of the ongoing gender-pay differential which this ordinance is attempting to eliminate, resulting in the fair treatment that all people deserve in and out of the workplace.

Paul Krekorian offered the point that wage disparity leads to a sense of hopelessness. And as has been said so many times before, despair leads to indifference which can turn to anger and resentment and then to crime and a vicious, unending downward spiral. Treating all people with the respect to which they are entitled can turn these discouraging and disheartening sentiments around and create better communities that offer the promise of a quality future—something from which we can all benefit.

Gil Cedillo was powerful in his strongly held beliefs that people at risk—many of whom are working 2-3 jobs to make ends meet—are entitled to a second chance. He believes that we must protect them and ourselves and work hard to reduce the unconscionable divide between poverty and wealth.

Rusty Hicks—leader of the LA County Federation of Labor—unequivocally supported adoption of the measure (despite what was inaccurately alleged about him in a recent Los Angeles Times column). He compared this Raise the Wage motion with a motion passed earlier that morning to take strong measures to improve our oversight of the LA River and to restore it to the beauty it used to enjoy. He stated that we must, in a similar way, restore self-esteem to the people who struggle every day, working industriously and diligently to provide for themselves and their families and to benefit their communities. Certainly the Councilmembers (who voted for this motion on behalf of the workers) and the workers themselves are among our unsung heroes.

Currently, about one million Angelenos are working for starvation wages but after this ordinance goes into effect, at least three quarters of a million workers and their families will have more spending power which will change the quality of their lives forever.

Beginning next year, most who work within LA's city limits—soon to be followed in some fashion by the County and already on the books in such cities as Pasadena and Glendale—will begin to see their wages increase until by July of 2020 (2021 in some cases) $15 an hour will be achieved. What is particularly important is that those wages will not only be monitored each year to enforce the wage ordinance but will be indexed according to CPI beginning in 2022, keeping workers from falling behind again due to inflation.

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Currently, about one million Angelenos are working for starvation wages but after this ordinance goes into effect, at least three quarters of a million workers and their families will have more spending power which will change the quality of their lives forever. The new living wage is certain to be a boon to our overall economy with a spillover effect far beyond our metropolis—what I have previously referred to as the reverse domino theory (or how all boats rise).

Los Angeles, as it is now, is presently labelled the wage-theft capital of America. Councilmember La Bonge stated that the ordinance will address this abomination and include wage-theft provisions (initially hiring five staff members to oversee this pressing issue—saying, however, that we could use 55 at the outset). He said that all people deserve to be treated with dignity and to have their civil rights preserved in the process. This sentiment was enthusiastically seconded by nearly all his colleagues.

The always compassionate and sensitive Paul Koretz added that we must criminalize wage theft in a meaningful way. He noted that we seem to see fit to convict people for stealing a pair of socks because they don’t have enough money to buy them for their children but don’t punish the real crimes perpetrated by employers who steal earned wages from their employees.

This is not a perfect bill but it is a good bill, particularly considering all the opposition that this ordinance has faced over the years and especially over the last 9 months. The vote on Wednesday was 13-1 (Bernard Parks was not in attendance) but because it was not a unanimous vote, we have to wait another week for a “final” final vote.

And why is this? CD 12’s Mitch Englander (my own councilmember) was comfortable voting "No" each time the issue came up for a vote. While each attending councilmember took turns standing up to laud the qualities and the timeliness of the motion, Englander did not display the courage one would expect of an elected official to explain his vote. If he felt so strongly, then why not tell us why? Is he too embarrassed to explain the reasons behind his vote? Is it only too clear whose side he is really on? Do the claims of some businesses supersede the needs of the very constituents who elected him to represent their best interests? In fact, numerous major corporate concerns have seen the wisdom in this measure and have gone on record supporting it. He should be ashamed of his vote! Why couldn’t he demonstrate that he is a man of his convictions? At least we could respect him (even if we disagree with his decision) if he made an effort to help us understand the “wisdom” of his thinking.

We are already witnessing the positive implications of the greater Council’s vote. St. Louis is proposing a $15 an hour minimum wage, and San Francisco and Seattle have passed similar ordinances in the recent past. Thus, what LA does will have a rippling effect across the state and the nation.

State Senator Mark Leno has introduced a bill, SB 3, which would require the State of California to reach a minimum wage of $13 an hour that would apply to all workers in all industries throughout the State—public and private—by July of 2017. His bill, should it become a law, would also be indexed to California’s CPI but goes further by denying a reduction in salary should we ever experience a bad year along the way.

Yes, victory is almost here. Just one more week for us in this great city. And, then, to infinity and beyond.

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Rosemary Jenkins