New ordinance amendment puts City on a fast track to higher wages, beginning this summer
Published : Tuesday, February 12, 2019 | 5:20 AM
Pasadena is back on a path to a $15 minimum wage in 2020. Following more than four-and-a-half hours of presentations and public comment, the Pasadena City Council Monday voted 7-1 to re-institute minimum wage raises beginning this summer.
The vote was 7-1, with Councilmember Tyron Hampton the only to vote against the raises.
A substitute motion by Councilmember Margaret McAustin to separate small and large businesses from the minimum wage path was defeated by the Council, allowing for the vote on the motion to approve.
The vote, essentially one of “timing,” amends Chapter 5.02 of the Pasadena Municipal Code, beginning July 1, 2019, to mandate raising the hourly wage to $14.25 for employers with more than 25 employees and $13.25 for those with fewer.
On July 1, 2020, the hourly wage will rise to $15.00 and $14.25 for small employers. Beginning July 1, 2021, the hourly wage will be $15.00 for small employers.
On July 1, 2022, and continuing each July 1 thereafter, the hourly wage will be adjusted by an amount equal to any changes in the consumer price index.
The raises put the City’s path to $15 on a schedule eighteen months ahead of the State’s planned implementation of the same rate.
“Mayor Tornek and the City Council proved Monday night with their votes that Pasadena is more than the City of Roses, it is a City of raises,” said Ed Washatka, of POP!, Pasadenans Organized for Progress.
The centerpiece of the long evening’s discussion was a pair of commissioned economic studies which seemingly served only to confuse some Councilmembers, a point voiced by a number of them.
Said Councilmember Steve Madison, an attorney, “If this was a court trial, I would have rejected both of those testimonies.”
The reports — by economists Michael Reich, chair of the Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics at the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (IRLE) at UC Berkeley, and Edward Leamer of the UCLA Anderson School of Business — offered wildly divergent opinions of the impact of the City’s 2016 minimum wage ordinance.
Leamer said the wage increases had a significant negative impact on local jobs and businesses, while Reich’s report essentially reported opposite findings.
At one point, the two economists even bickered openly with each other over each’s methodology and results.
Following one exchange, Leamer said, “I use statistical significance versus just words,” while Reich asked rhetorically, “How many economists laid end-to-end would it take to encircle the globe?”
“It would be impossible,” he answered himself. “You could never get them to lay down in the same direction.”
Meanwhile, testimony from business leaders, local progressive advocates, and more than 45 residents, was deeply compelling on both sides of the argument.
“I have gone without a salary for two years,” said Robin Salzer, owner of Robin’s Wood Fired BBQ, while Arlene Mijares DeLang, co-owner of Mijares Mexican restaurant, said she had cut dozens of jobs and hours in the past two years and was now planning to close her Washington Street location.
Justin Choi, Chairman of the Board of the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce, told the Council that the Chamber was not against raising the wage, but wanted the City to follow’s the state’s path and “slow down the raises.”
Economist Dan Flaming, in his presentation, told the Council, “The question is, ‘Is it helping workers who are are creating wealth for others to receive a big enough share of that wealth to support a basic standard of living? The acute economic hardship still faced by many Pasadena families and workers is a clear sign that the system is still out of balance.”
Reverend Mike Kinman of All Saints Church, asking the Council to renew the path to $15, said, “It takes a little courage to be as courageous as you were when you passed this in 2016.”
Two Pasadena Unified Board members — President Larry Torres and member Patrick Cahalan speaking as residents — also addressed the Council, with Torres pointing out that higher salaries would attract “extraordinary talent” to Pasadena, while Cahalan noted that the wage increase “touches all the 5,000 to 6,000 families in the PUSD who are impacted by this. Those parents don’t come to these meetings. They’re busy working.”
And in what could be a first for local royalty, 2019 Rose Queen Louise Deser Siskel also spoke to the Council in favor the faster-track wage increases.
During the Council’s discussion, Councilmember Gene Masuda voiced concern that higher wages would lead to fewer jobs, pointing out a local car wash and supermarket in his district now have fewer employees, while the supermarket was using self-checkout machines, necessitating fewer employees.
“This is a concern for me,” Masuda said.
Acknowledging the testimony from a number of local businesses, Councilmember Victor Gordo responded, “Pasadena has done well for its businesses,” citing numerous infrastructure improvements in Old Pasadena. But he also noted the “economic crises” in housing, health care, and poverty.
“I know the difficulty of the minimum wage issue,” he said, “but this can address all those issues.”
Councilmember Steve Madison also emphasized the human aspect of the minimum wage issue, saying, “Ultimately, we are judged by how we treat the least fortunate among us.”
Councilmember Tyron Hampton, who owns and operates his own local business, opposed the wage increases.
Following the meeting, Councilmember Andy Wilson said, “I think this was the right thing to do, and it’s good for our community. I appreciate the local business owners having to navigate this, but I’m sure they’ll get through it.”
Councilmember Margaret McAustin added, ‘I’m pleased that we’ve continued the course that the Council set in 2016.”
She also noted that “small businesses are always a factor here, and I don’t want this to be the thing that puts them over the edge, and we become a city of chain restaurants. But I’m very happy this passed.”