Guest Opinion | Don’t Let the City Council Destroy Pasadena’s Minimum Wage Progress

Published : Monday, November 14, 2016 | 5:02 PM

Peter Dreier (l) and Mark Maier (r)

Reflecting the views of the Chamber of Commerce, Pasadena City Councilmember Andy Wilson has asked his council colleagues to consider rolling back the city’s progress on the minimum wage.

Last February, the City Council voted unanimously to implement a path to $15 per hour, adopting the same policy that the City of Los Angeles had passed and the same policy that Los Angeles County adopted for unincorporated areas, including Altadena.

Now Wilson, who faces a tough election battle, appears to be currying favor from business interests He wants the Council’s Economic Development and Technology (Ed Tech) Committee to consider rescinding Pasadena’s new law. To cover his tracks, Wilson has also asked the Council to consider keeping the current law in place. The Ed Tech Committee will discuss Wilson’s outrageous proposal on Tuesday (November 15) at 6 pm in the Grand Conference Room in the basement of Pasadena City Hall.

Wilson’s proposal is a slap in the face to Pasadena’s low wage workforce and to the many people who worked for over a year to craft the policy following a healthy public debate. Moreover, a poll conducted before the City Council vote found that 74% of Pasadena voters citywide, and huge majorities in every City Council district (including 63% in Wilson’s district) voiced support for the $15 wage. The plan was endorsed by a broad coalition of clergy, nonprofit groups, educators, elected officials, civic and community organizations, businesses, and unions.

If the Pasadena City Council rescinds the current law, the local minimum wage will revert to the lower one adopted by the state legislature and signed by Gov. Brown in April. The California minimum wage schedule was adopted as a compromise based on concerns about depressed economies in the Central Valley. Many other California cities have adopted minimum wage laws higher than the state level in order to address wide differences in the cost of living, especially housing costs, in different parts of the state.

Thanks to Pasadena’s new law, its minimum wage (as of July 1) is now is $10.50/hour for businesses with 26 or more employees. It is scheduled to rise to $12/hour next July and $13.25/hour in 2018. (The minimum wage schedule is delayed one year for smaller businesses.)

This is precisely the schedule adopted by Los Angeles City and by Los Angeles County for unincorporated areas. The City and County have further steps, reaching $15/hour in 2020, whereas Pasadena has a “pause” to consider whether to follow these additional increases. Since Pasadena just began implementing its new wage law, it makes sense to wait for that “pause” in two years to see what impact the new law has had.

The State of California’s path to $15/hour takes an additional 18 months, moving from $10.50/hour on January 1, 2017 to $11.00/hour in 2018 and then up by $1 every year until 2022. If Pasadena reverted to the State plan, full time minimum wage workers would lose over $3,000 per year in 2018 alone. That would be devastating for those families, especially since Pasadena has among the highest housing prices in the country, making it extremely difficult for low-wage families to make ends meet. Also, as many people pointed during the debate over the minimum wage, low-wage workers will spend most of their additional incomes in Pasadena business, giving a boost to our local economy.

If Pasadena were to abandon its minimum wage law, it would be an administrative headache. Laws are best enforced when they are uniform across jurisdictions. Most Pasadena residents work in Los Angeles, Pasadena, and Altadena, so having the same minimum wage in those three jurisdictions make sense. If Pasadena changed its law, there would be inadvertent wage fraud by employers confused about the differing wages and differing adjustment dates. And, unscrupulous employers could underpay their workers who may be confused by the jurisdictional variation depending whether one worked in Pasadena or just over the city line in Los Angeles or Altadena.

Finally, it should be remembered that the higher Pasadena and L.A. wages are not even in line with U.S. historical minimum wage levels. Had the federal minimum wage been adjusted for inflation since 1968, it would be over $11.00 /hour today. But because Congress is gridlocked, many states have adopted their own minimum wage laws higher than the federal level and many cities have adopted municipal laws higher than their state minimum wages.

Wilson was appointed to the City Council seat to fill Terry Tornek’s seat after Tornek was elected Mayor. Now Wilson has to run to win the seat and faces an even more conservative opponent. It appears he’s willing to throw Pasadena’s working families under the bus to win the election.

We encourage Pasadena residents to contact Andy Wilson and other City Council members and tell them to keep the current minimum wage law in place.

Mayor Terry Tornek: ttornek@cityofpasadena.net
District 1 – Tyron Hampton: cbell@cityofpasadena.net
District 2 – Margaret McAustin: mmcaustin@cityofpasadena.net
District 3 – John Kennedy: ChristianCruz@cityofpasadena.net
District 4 – Gene Masuda: nsullivan@cityofpasadena.net
District 5 – Victor Gordo: vgordo@cityofpasadena.net
District 6 – Steve Madison: smadison@cityofpasadena.net
District 7 – Andy Wilson: awilson@cityofpasadena.net

We urge the Council’s Economic Development and Technology Committee to reject Councilmember Wilson’s backdoor proposal. It is unfair to workers, unsound as administrative practice, and seems only a election-year gesture for Wilson to win support from the Chamber of Commerce. It is fair to ask each City Council member: whose side are you on?

Peter Dreier chairs the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. Mark Maier teaches economics at Glendale College. Both of them are long-time Pasadena residents.

 

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