Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti signed a $15 minimum wage into law Saturday, making the city the largest in the country to boost pay to $15.
The law was signed alongside supporters at Martin Luther King Jr. Park, where Garcetti had originally announced he wanted to raise the minimum wage for hundreds of thousands of workers in the city.
The first in a series of pay increases is expected to occur on July 2016 to $10.50.
The Los Angeles City Council in May paved the way for raising the minimum wage in the nation’s second-largest city, representing a huge victory for those trying to boost the lower end of the pay scale in their fight against poverty.
Under the measure approved by all but one of the 15 City Council members, the current hourly minimum wage of $9 will climb to $10.50 in July 2016, and from there steadily rise over time to $15 by July 2020. After that, wage increases will be tied to the consumer price index.
Many City Council members hailed the wage increase as a watershed moment in the fight against poverty in L.A. An estimated 800,000 workers are expected to see their pay increase.
"Make no mistake … today the city of Los Angeles — the second-largest city in the nation — is leading our nation by raising the minimum wage to over $15 an hour,” Councilman Paul Krekorian said. "This is a reason to celebrate.”
Los Angeles is now set to become the latest major U.S. city to boost the minimum wage far above state benchmarks. The federal minimum wage, meanwhile, remains at $7.25 an hour. In California, it's $9 an hour.
Seattle, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., New York City, and, soon, Los Angeles have now enacted laws to bring the minimum wage up to $15 an hour, despite fears from the small business lobby that the burden will be too much for some owners and force mass layoffs.
Ruben Gonzalez, senior vice president for public policy and political affairs for the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, warned that the wage schedule would be too much for many smaller businesses to absorb.
L.A. businesses with 25 employees or fewer will have until 2021 to reach the $15-an-hour mark.
City officials are also considering amendments to the law that would exempt workers with labor unions from the $15 minimum wage. Another amendment that would exempt employers with 50 or less employees has also been discussed.
Several local organizations, however, have aired concerns about the impacts the wage hike will have on local businesses.
Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, told the City Council that a yearlong delay in implementing the wage increase offered little to no relief.
"A one-year delay does not help anyone," he said.
The City Council asked economic development officials to study sick days and paid leave additions as amendments to the wage ordinance, among other last-minute proposals.
But the political momentum for the increase was strong, forged over months of community meetings, hearings, and demonstrations that were heavily attended by labor unions and other antipoverty advocates who argued that L.A.’s high cost of living had far outstripped the ability of thousands of low-income workers to live a decent life.
L.A. County is also considering its own minimum wage hike.
"The soul of Los Angeles are its workers,” said Laphonza Butler, president of SEIU/United Long Term Workers, one of the largest unions in California. "By you acting today, you say to other cities, you say to the county, that every worker deserves to have $15 an hour, every worker deserves to have a sick day, every worker deserves to have their wages enforced.”
Still, council members acknowledged there were still some significant unknowns in terms of how L.A. will ultimately be affected. More than 50% of the workers who are to benefit from the wage increase live outside the city’s limits, officials noted.
“We’re doing this because we have to bring people out of poverty, but we have to make sure we do this right, so we don’t put people in poverty,” Councilman Paul Koretz said.
He added: “If anyone thinks they can tell you where this is all going to go … I don’t think they’re being honest with you.”
Some opponents of the ordinance said the City Council should fight poverty by pushing for more affordable housing instead of burdening business owners.
Some on the City Council agreed that there was still more to do, particularly regarding L.A.’s high housing costs. Others acknowledged the challenges some small businesses would have in absorbing the additional costs — particularly full-service restaurants, an industry that already survives on razor-thin profit margins.
“There are risks involved … with respect to how fast we go,” Councilman Gil Cedillo said. “No job, doesn’t work. It’s that simple.”
Still, the vast majority of the City Council, including Cedillo, said the wage increase was long overdue.
Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, Councilman Mike Bonin said, “is the very least we can do.”
Jason Wells is deputy news director for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
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Salvador Hernandez is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
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