Mayor stakes his claim on the minimum wage issue

Maria Elena Durazo, Eli Broad and Mayor Garcetti at Monday's event. Crop of Facebook photo by Garcetti's staff.

Quite a weekend for Mayor Eric Garcetti. He saw the Legislature expand the tax credit program he has been pushing for Hollywood, he schmoozed with Jay-Z and Beyonce at the Made in America Festival in City Hall's front yard, and he used Labor Day to take his plan for a much higher minimum wage in Los Angeles to a rally at Martin Luther King, Jr. Park in South Los Angeles. Garcetti's plan would raise the current minimum wage of $9 an hour, which applies across California, in phases to $13.25 an hour in 2017. The prospect of Los Angeles companies being forced to pay higher wages than those in nearby cities did not sit well with the key business groups when Garcetti's deputies went looking for support the past few weeks, but on Monday the mayor produced Eli Broad to sit next to him for the cameras. Broad was there to symbolize business support for the plan. On the other side of Broad was Maria Elena Durazo, the head of the County Federation of Labor. Seven members of the City Council were there too, including Council President Herb Wesson, making it look as if Garcetti's proposal won't hit a wall in the council. Several council members were already carrying labor's push for an even higher minimum wage in selected LA hotels.

Garcetti said his plan would "gradually and responsibly" raise the minimum wage in Los Angeles to $10.25 in 2015, $11.75 in 2016, and $13.25 in 2017. Future increases would be tied to inflation. The net effect would be to raise thousands of Angeleno families out of poverty, Garcetti said, citing a think tank study. The mayor's office has a web page up with more details.

"While our city has added 40,000 jobs and unemployment has dropped 2% since I became mayor, the erosion of wages for low- and middle-wage workers threatens our recovery," Garcetti said. "Our city has always enjoyed the greatest prosperity when everyone can afford to support themselves and contribute to our economy. I'm proposing to responsibly and gradually raise the minimum wage in L.A. to $13.25 because it's deplorable and bad for our economy to have one million Angelenos stuck in poverty, even when working full-time."

Garcetti also turned out the the mayors of Santa Monica, Culver City and West Hollywood, but that won't prevent skeptics from saying that unilaterally raising its minimum wage will hurt LA's ability to compete with those and other nearby cities. The heads of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and the Valley Industry and Commerce Association had expressed their dismay in advance, when news broke last week about the details of Garcetti's proposal.

On Monday the California Hotel & Lodging Association added its objections, noting the pressure already mounting to pay minimum wage hotel workers in Los Angeles much more than hotel workers in LA's competitors. "For some time now, labor leaders have been circulating a way to raise the minimum wage to more than $15 an hour, 60% above the current California minimum wage, but only for one segment of the City’s work force, hotel workers," said the group's statement. "Now, Mayor Garcetti has a separate proposal that will require all employers within city boundaries to pay a higher minimum wage. But the proposal to unfairly target hotels is still on the table on top of the recently increased federal and state wages. If both proposals pass, the City will have contrary wages for different industries. This is very troubling and we look forward to talking more with our elected officials to express our concerns."

For his part, Broad authored an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times timed to Monday's Garcetti announcement. The lede:

Of all major cities in the country, Los Angeles has the highest percentage of population living in poverty. After decades of slow job growth and stagnant wages, 28% of Angelenos — 1 million people — today live below the poverty line. Our city's African American and Latino residents face disproportionately higher rates of poverty. The situation is heartbreaking and unconscionable.

That's why I'm supporting the plan that Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Monday to raise the minimum wage to $13.25. The men and women earning minimum wage deserve, at the very least, a paycheck that enables them to support their families. An increase in the minimum wage would not only be good for low-wage workers. It would also be good for the city, good for the economy and, in the long term, good for business. It is, simply put, the right thing to do.

I talked about the politics of the Garcetti proposal today in the weekly LA Observed segment on KCRW. Here's some media coverage of the issue:

James Rainey, LA Times: "Garcetti’s plan follows those of several West Coast cities this summer -- San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle -- in mandating wages well above those required by the state and federal governments. The $13.25 proposal will stir opposition from business groups, who say it will force employers to cut jobs, and from some in the labor movement, who wanted bolder action to match the $15 wage approved by Seattle in June."

Gene Maddaus, LA Weekly: "The plan marks an abrupt shift in focus for the Garcetti administration, which up until now has emphasized business-friendly initiatives like expanding the film tax incentive and lowering the city's business tax. Business leaders reacted to the shift with dismay. 'I'm stunned,' said Stuart Waldman, chair of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association. 'He knows as well as anyone that this city needs jobs. Introducing this measure will have a chilling effect on anyone considering opening a business in Los Angeles, and it will probably also push a lot of people out of Los Angeles.'"

Dakota Smith, Daily News: "Garcetti used Labor Day to call for a hike in the city’s minimum wage, unveiling a plan to boost wages to $13.25 an hour by 2017. Joined by more than half a dozen City Council members and labor leader Maria Elena Durazo at a park in South L.A., Garcetti likened the city’s current minimum wage of $9 to a 'poverty wage.' Raising the minimum wage will help the city recover from the recent recession, said Garcetti, who campaigned during last year’s mayoral election on a jobs platform. 'This is fair, this is common sense,' Garcetti said. 'This is good for business, this is good for the community.'”

KPCC: "Following in the footsteps of cities like Seattle and San Francisco, Mayor Eric Garcetti made a Labor Day pitch for an increase, over the next three years, in the Los Angeles minimum wage to more than $13 per hour. The mayor made the announcement in a South L.A. park at what's billed as a 'rally to address poverty in Los Angeles.' His proposal would increase the city's minimum wage to $13.25 an hour by 2017 and then tie the wage to the Consumer Price Index for urban wage earners. "

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