Published : Tuesday, February 2, 2016 | 5:08 AM
After a meeting that ran past midnight, the Pasadena City Council Monday night voted to move forward on raising the city’s minimum wage.
The Council voted unanimously in favor of a pathway to $15 per hour by 2020, and in support of wage enforcement. The new wage increase would begin in July, with a minimum wage of $10.50. It would then climb every year to 2018, when it would be $13.25. The impact of the ordinance on the local economy would then be reviewed by the City Council in February, 2019, for continuing on to its eventual goal of $15 an hour in 2020. Future raises beyond 2020 would be indexed to annual cost of living adjustments.
Additionally, the Council agreed to impose the raise mandate on non-profits, small businesses, and tipped workers in the new ordinance.
The Council vote was the culmination of five city-sponsored community meetings held since August, in locations all over the city.
The long evening began with a press conference and rally in support of the increased wage in front of the City Hall, by members of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE). Robert Nothoff, project director, told Pasadena Now, “We feel very confident that we are on the path to 15 (dollars an hour) with strong wage enforcement which would raise wages for 30,000 workers when fully phased in, lift 10,000 people out of poverty, and put $234 million back into the pockets of workers, which then circulates locally.”
Supporters of the bill packed the Council chambers, and many were directed to additional viewing in the City Hall basement where they watched the proceedings on a closed circuit broadcast.
The public speaker portion of the meeting took over three hours, with testimonies ranging from the tearful to the dramatic. Much of the testimony centered around the issue of wage theft enforcement.
Pablo Alvarado, director of the Pasadena Community Job Center, took to the lectern and held up a hefty California Labor Code, saying, “This is the California Labor Code. Every law that protects workers is right in here.” Setting it down, he then lifted up a copy of the California Penal Code, telling the council, “If the state of California spent as much time enforcing the Labor Code as they do the penal code, you would have a lot less people in jail.”
“This is a moral issue,” said labor organizer Robert Christo. “You need to punish wage thieves like you punish robbers.”
Angel Olvera of the Pasadena Job center also told members of the Council that day laborers at the center recently agreed among themselves to only work for $15 an hour, or more, and were still hired. “If they can do it,” he said, “Then so can you.”
Resident Ed Washatka, campaigning for an even higher wage, quoted former Pasadena Councilmember Jaquie Robinson, saying that that the $15 an hour wage “is a floor, not a ceiling.”
While the public testimony was overwhelmingly in support of the new wage ordinance, at least three speakers offered a different perspective.
Paul Little, president of the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce, offered an “alternative plan” that topped the increase at $12.50. Said Little, “When you increase minimum wage, you raise youth unemployment.”
Armen Shirvanian, owner of Mi Piace, said, “In my restaurant, we are a family. I don’t know where these people work who are complaining, but we pay our workers well. We have a sign that says, ‘No one here is better than any other, and no one is better than the dishwasher.’” He urged the council to take a “more measured, slower approach.”
Robin Salzer, owner of Robin’s Wood-fired Grill, took a moment to remind the members of the City Council that his restaurant has been a long time supporter of the community, from feeding firefighters to donating to local causes throughout the area.
The Council passed on the staff recommendation for the new ordinance with only two alterations—that the ordinance be “reviewed” in 2019, to assess its impact on the community, a point that council member Steve Madison argued vehemently against. “This is no longer a path to $15 in 2020, it’s a path to $13.25 in 2019,” he said.
The Council also agreed to match the City of Los Angeles standard for a “learners” exemption, which would exempt workers between the ages of 14-17 for 160 days. The original recommendation, which council member Tyron Hampton argued for, was no age limit and 480 days.
The City Attorney will now create the wording for the new ordinance, which will come back to the council in about 30 days, for a full reading.
The new ordinance, once the final wording is approved, would go into effect this June.
Mayor Terry Tornek called the entire process and discussion “thorough and thoughtful,” as he directed the council through the vote. The final vote was a unanimous consensus, with the gavel falling at 12:20 a.m.