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Minimum wage: Council approves $15 hourly rate for Los Angeles

The Los Angeles City Council approved a proposal Tuesday that calls for raising the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020. 

City Attorney Mike Feuer will draw up an ordinance for the wage hike, which would come back to the council for a final vote.

The proposal — approved last week by the council's Economic Development committee — calls for raising the current wage of $9 an hour to $10.50 in July of 2016. The hourly wage would go up in each subsequent year until it hits $15.  Businesses with 25 employees or fewer and some nonprofits would get an extra year to begin raising the minimum wage.  

The proposal is more gradual than Mayor Eric Garcetti's first proposal last fall, which called for raising the wage to $13.25 by 2017.  That pay rate wouldn't be reached until July of 2018. The first jump t0 $10.50 an hour in July of 2016 would raise L.A.'s minimum wage to just fifty cents more than the state of California's minimum wage, which is scheduled to increase to $10 an hour in January. 

"We were able to pull together competing concerns," said council member Curren Price, who chairs the Economic Development committee and presided over a series of public hearings about the wage increase.  "Some people would like to see it happen faster, some would like it slower. We've got a compromise in the middle."

The competing concerns came from community activists who said the current minimum wage isn't enough for families to live on. Business owners argued that a dramatic increase would force some firms to trim their staffs or move outside the city limits.

When figuring out how to ease the burden on small businesses, the Economic Development committee debated exactly what constitutes a small business.  It arrived at 25 employees or fewer after considering proposals for delays for businesses of 75 and 50 employees or fewer.

Nearly two hours before the council meeting was to begin, a line of people began forming outside Council Chambers.  Labor community activists wanted to strengthen the city's capacity to enforce the minimum wage and target employers who engage in "wage theft." The council was on board, requesting that the City Attorney draft an ordinance to establish an Office of Labor Standards.  

"Without real enforcement, this historic wage increase means nothing to those who need it the most and hurts honest businesses trying to do the right thing," said Alexandra Suh, Executive Director of the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance told the Council.

  Business community representatives said they hoped the council would consider slowing the pace of the wage increase even more. “We’re hoping to make a bad proposal less bad,” Ruben Gonzalez of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce told KPCC while waiting in line to enter Council chambers. 

The City Council approved a provision that would allow non-profits with more than 25 employees to apply for a waiver to the wage increase if their top executive earns less than five times the wage of the lowest paid employee, or if they provide transitional jobs programs.

Jose Osuna, Director of Employment Services at Homeboy Industries, an L.A.-based nonprofit that hires people who were formerly in gangs or imprisoned, said the organization would have to resort to layoffs if those transitional jobs weren't exempted from the new wage measure.

"We’re currently at a head count of 170 trainees at Homeboy. These are people that are on payroll but also receiving a large number of support services, including mental health therapy, anger management," he told Council members.

"We understand that raising the minimum wage is a strong way to break the vicious cycle of poverty, but if we’re forced to implement that into our training program, that would mean that we would have to lay off 73 of those people today."

Juan Moran, who works as a line cook in a Japanese restaurant while attending East L.A. college was attending his fourth City Council meeting on the wage increase. “We have a chance to make history,” Moran told KPCC.

Carpenter Joseph Hightower said the wage increase would definitely provide a better quality of life for him and his family.

"All of my life, I’ve been living check to check. All I want to do is take care of my family without the aid of the county," he told Councilmembers. "I want to take care of my family by the sweat and the toil on my back and what I do for an employer."

This story has been updated.