Long Beach, Calif., lawmakers voted in favor of a proposal Wednesday aimed at gradually increasing the city minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2021.
The city council voted in favor of the increase after several hearings and months of debates. Cities across the state have already enacted the $15 minimum wage and more are considering it. The city council wants the ordinance to be based on the one Los Angeles passed July 21. The city attorney will now be responsible for preparing the details of the ordinance.
“The gap continues to grow between the wealthy and the poor,” Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal told Patch before the vote. “We continue to deal with the impacts of a growing class of residents living in poverty.”
The vote was held early in the morning after lawmakers debated through the night. The city currently has a $10 an hour minimum wage. The plan was applauded by local union leaders as a way to help low-income workers.
“We thank the Mayor and City Council for voting to prepare an ordinance that would lift thousands of workers out of poverty and ensure they are not cheated out of a full day’s work,” Rusty Hicks, executive secretary-treasurer for the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, said in a statement. “An ordinance that includes a $15/hour wage, cost-of-living adjustment, wage enforcement, and no exemptions is the only way to ensure workers have a secure and stable life to provide for their families.”
Hicks also works as a co-convener for the Campaign to Raise the Wage. He played a critical role in getting the Los Angeles proposal passed but was later criticized for requesting that unionized workers be exempt from the increase. At the moment there are two union-backed proposals to enact a statewide $15 minimum wage. Both measures were introduced by two different local chapters of the Service Employees International Union.
Skeptics of the $15 minimum wage have warned the policy could cause significant economic stress. They note it may actually hurt the poor by forcing them out of the job market. Employers would have few options to offset the added cost of labor besides increasing costs or scaling back their workers. Low-skilled workers and those new to the workforce are likely to be the worst hit because they often don’t contribute as much to the company.
Gov. Jerry Brown has taken the possible problems very seriously. He broke with fellow Democrats to oppose the $15 minimum wage and has instead urged state lawmakers not to go beyond $10 an hour. A $15 minimum wage has the potential to add an additional $4 billion annually to the state budget by 2021, according to the state budget summary. The California Department of Finance released a report in March also urging the state to not go beyond the $10 an hour.
The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. No state has enacted the increase with advocates having the most success on the city level. Seattle was the first city to pass a $15 minimum wage back in June 2014. New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has already done a lot to push the policy in his own state. He unilaterally raised wages for those working in the fast-food industry, state university workers and state employees.
Cuomo also introduced a bill Sept. 10 that will gradually bring the state minimum wage to $15 by 2021 if passed by the legislature. Florida and Massachusetts are both also considering a $15 minimum wage.
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