City Committee Will Consider Rescinding Pasadena's Minimum Wage Ordinance

Published : Tuesday, November 15, 2016 | 6:25 AM

Images from events throughout 2015 and 2016 related to the passage of Pasadena's minimum wage ordinance on March 14, 2016.

[Updated Editor's Note:  The City has announced that due to higher than anticipated attendance, the Economic Development and Technology Committee scheduled for today at 5:30 pm. the meeting has been moved from the Grand Conference Room to the Council Chambers located in room S-249 at 100 N. Garfield Ave. Pasadena, CA 91109 at 5:30 p.m.]

 

A City Committee today will consider recommending that the full City Council rescind Pasadena’s City-wide minimum wage ordinance, which was approved by the Council on March 14 about two weeks prior to California Governor Jerry Brown signing into law a similar but less aggressive State-wide wage increase.

Rescission is one of three outcomes the Economic Development and Technology will consider at its 5:30 p.m. meeting in Pasadena City Hall Council Chambers. The other proposed options are to leave the ordinance intact, or to modify it to conform with the State’s minimum wage increase, known as SB3.

Both Pasadena’s ordinance and the State’s law are designed to raise workers’ minimum wage to $15 per hour, but on different time tracks and with different conditions. The State’s version stretches out the path to $15 for an additional two years longer than the City’s plan.

“The goal of this conversation is to affirm that this is still the best strategy for us to pursue our own minimum wage ordinance regardless that the State has taken its own action consequent to us adopting our ordinance,” said Committee Member and Councilmember Andy Wilson.

Mayor Terry Tornek, who supported increasing the minimum wage in Pasadena during his run for office, said he saw nothing unusual in the Committee’s planned discussion.

“I’m very proud of the ordinance we adopted and I think having it consistent with L.A. and L.A. County is probably the benchmark as far as I’m concerned, but it’s not a weird thing to ask the question about how we compare and contrast to the state or whether we want to revisit it,” explained Tornek.

Looking back, Pasadena Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Paul Little said, the decision to implement the Pasadena minimum wage increase to go into effect July 1 was a rushed decision.

“The Chamber of Commerce didn’t think this was a good idea from the start,” said Little. “We always felt this was a State issue.”

The State’s wage increases implementation schedule is slower than Pasadena’s. The lengthier schedule provides employers with additional time towards making business modifications necessary to accommodate the higher wage rate.

“I think the best option would be for the City to conform with the State minimum wage law. It’s essentially a time table difference. It gets to $15 — it just takes a little longer,” said Little.

According to City Manager Steve Mermell, revisiting the ordinance has nothing to do with Pasadena’s budget deficit.

“The key issue is the difference in timing. The staff report will be a mechanism for the EdTech Committee to have that conversation,” said Pasadena City Manager Steve Mermell.

The Pasadena ordinance specifies wage increases every July 1 through 2018. For employers with 26 or more employees, the minimum wage increases again on July 1, 2017 to $12.00, and then to $13.25 on July 1, 2018. For Pasadena businesses with 25 or fewer employees, the first raise is to $10.50 on July 1, 2017 and then next to $12.00 on July 1, 2018.

“The State’s timing is slower than ours and we considered that as one of our alternatives, which we rejected. I don’t see any compelling reason to consider modifying our ordinance,” said Tornek.

Others are surprised and dismayed that the Committee is revisiting the ordinance at all.

“We spent a year and a half debating this. All of the elected officials wanted to wait and see what L.A. and L.A. County did and Pasadena mirrored exactly what they did. It makes no sense to rescind an ordinance that’s already been in the process of being implemented. We’ve already hired someone to enforce it.” said Peter Dreier, chairman of the Urban and Environment Policy Department at Occidental College. “The City should wait to see how it’s working before it makes a decision and not rush to judgement before seeing its impact.”

A recent public opinion poll found that 74 percent of Pasadena voters support the $15-by-2020 minimum wage plan with strong enforcement and an annual cost of living increase, according to Dreier.

That poll concluded that large majorities in every City Council district embraced the proposal, including 77 percent in Tyron Hampton’s district, 75 percent in Margaret McAustin’s district, 71 percent in John Kennedy’s district, 78 percent in Gene Masuda’s district, 76 percent in Victor Gordo’s district, 80 percent in Steve Madison’s district, and 63 percent in Andy Wilson’s district.

“Raising the minimum wage in Pasadena puts more money into the local economy. It’s actually good for business,” said Dreier whose report said that nearly one third of Pasadena residents earn less than $15 and hour.

Civil Rights Attorney Dale Gronemeier agrees that the the ordinance is a must for the city.

“Pasadena’s support for low-wage workers with higher minimum wage is consistent with what the city of Los Angeles and Los Angeles County is doing,” said Gronemeier. “The ordinance was based eight to zero and we haven’t even had enough time to see it out.”

Revisiting the ordinance is met with strong opposition by one group in particular.

“It’s not just immoral — it’s a mockery of the political process. The vote was eight to zero. What else do they want?,” said Pablo Alvarado of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON).

Along with the NDLON, Pasadena Code Compliance Officer Jon Pollard has been named as the chief officer to handle complaints through the City’s Planning and Community Development Office, the investigative and enforcement agency for minimum wage and wage theft violations.

“We reached — in my mind — a great compromise,” said Alvarado about the passing of the minimum wage ordinance. “It’s not even what we wanted as workers. To be honest, It’s unacceptable that they want to either rescind the ordinance or sync it with the State. I think it’s time for the City to do the right thing for working people in Pasadena.”

While Pasadena’s Minumum Wage Ordinance is new and there have been relatively few complaints lodged alleging violation of the Ordinance, anecdotal information from other cities indicate that both the number of wage rate complaints and incidences of confirmed violations tend to increase over time, according to a memorandum from Director of Planning and Community Development Director David Reyes.

The annual costs to the City for minimum wage enforcement come out to approximately $110,000. Some or all of the costs could be eliminated should the City Council consider adopting California’s SB3 and opt for State enforcement.

“The truth is that the State’s resources are notoriously slim and we could not in good conscience, I think, rely on State enforcement for our ordinance. If we expect people to really benefit from higher wages we’re going to have to have our own modest enforcement efforts,” said Tornek.

Tuesday’s meeting will discuss the implications associated with the different phasing between State and local law and other cost/benefit considerations.

“I think we’ve made a certain commitment now to the community and they have a reasonable expectation of what they can expect over the next five years,” said Tornek.

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