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News :: Labor
LA raises minimum wage, but at snail’s pace
29 Jun 2015
LOS ANGELES — As nationwide protests calling for $15 an hour and a union have spread and picked up steam, the City Council here approved June 10 a snail’s pace incremental increase of the minimum wage from the current $9 an hour to $15 in July 2020. The first increase would not take effect until next summer.

In addition to confronting the usual claims by the bosses that raising wages will increase prices and cost jobs, workers involved in this fight face efforts by some top labor officials to exempt unionized companies — meaning some union members would be paid less than the minimum wage. The demand for “$15 and a union” would be turned into “$15 or a union.”

At least 23 state, county and city governments have passed laws over the last few years raising the minimum wage, but only a handful are going up to $15 an hour, including San Francisco, Seattle and SeaTac, Washington.

Nearly half of this city’s workforce earns less than $15 an hour. Under the proposed ordinance the minimum wage for companies with more than 25 employees would go up to $10.50 on July 1, 2016, from the state minimum of $9, with yearly increases to follow.

Businesses with fewer workers and so-called nonprofits would have an extra year before they have to implement each increase.

At a May 19 City Council hearing, Ruben Gonzalez, a senior vice president of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, argued that many local businesses will lay off workers, cut hours or close down if the hike is approved. “It’s simple math,” he claimed. “There is simply not enough room, enough margin in these businesses to absorb a 50-plus percent increase in labor costs over a short period of time.”

But fast-food, Walmart, home health care, car wash, airport and other workers who have gained confidence through protests for $15 and a union and against police brutality see it differently.

“People are hungry now. Companies can afford to pay $15 now, and we deserve it now,” OUR Walmart member Barbara Collins told the Militant at a May 28 rally of 150 Walmart workers and supporters in downtown Los Angeles.

“It’s not fair that we have workers working 30-plus years who are still making $9 an hour,” Manuel Valdovinos, a worker at Skychef, organized by the UNITE HERE union, said at a May 18 march demanding the City Council approve the minimum wage hike.

Union officials propose loophole
A week before the vote on the ordinance, Rusty Hicks, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and a leader of the Raise the Wage coalition, called for amending the ordinance to grant companies with union contracts an exemption. Many local minimum wage laws around the country include similar waivers.

“With a collective bargaining agreement, a business owner and the employees negotiate an agreement that works for them both,” Hicks said. “The agreement allows each party to prioritize what is important to them. This provision gives the parties the option, the freedom, to negotiate that agreement. And that is a good thing.”

Hicks’ statement gave the Chamber of Commerce a handle to claim that the minimum wage hike was a maneuver to allow union officials to negotiate sweetheart contracts that would increase the union dues base without benefitting workers.

“I was kind of shocked,” Los Angeles McDonald’s worker and Fight for $15 activist Edgar Gonzalez told the Militant. “We’re fighting for a union and a raise, not only a raise. We’re winning because we keep on fighting and putting a lot of pressure on them.”

The City Council has postponed considering an exemption for union-organized workplaces for further study.
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