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As Minimum Wage Rise Approaches; Workers Relieved, Restaurants, Retail Wary

Local non-profits hold fast to living wage, while Chamber of Commerce will furlough workers

Published on Tuesday, June 23, 2020 | 8:45 am

Back in late May, more than two dozen Pasadena workers demonstrated at City Hall to demand that the City Council keep its commitment to raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour on July 1 as scheduled. The raise is part of a three-phase minimum wage increase voted on by the City Council in 2019. 

“We’ve heard rumors that there is an effort by a segment of local businesses,” said Pablo Alvarado of the National Day Laborers Organizing Network (NDLON) at the time, “and it appears that there might be some elected officials leaning in their direction—who are asking to stop the minimum wage from rising.”

But with no Council meeting scheduled for the next two weeks to stop the long-awaited raise, it will automatically go into effect as schedule, securing the workers’ wishes.

“That’s exactly how it should be,” said Alvarado Monday. “The City Council promise was that the wage would increase to  $15 on July 1st.  Workers are right in the middle of this, and they are waiting for that increase at just this moment. There’s a moment when people are hurting, mostly workers who have been unemployed,  workers who have been performing essential jobs. And so it’s fantastic that the workers will now be earning $15.”

“This is one of the most important things that this City has ever done,” said Mayor Terry Tornek Monday.  

Tornek said of the raise, “I know it’s controversial, and I know it’s not without adverse impacts on some businesses. And there is nothing important that doesn’t come without costs or consequences, but I think I’ve been steadfast and supportive of maintaining the schedule and not rolling it back, because I think that for people who work 40 hours a week, for them to earn less than $30,000 a year is not plausible.” 

Tornek said he was aware that “there was some conversation and some thought about having a pause or rolling it back. And I just don’t think we can take money out of the pockets of the lowest wage earners. I support us moving ahead.” 

Tornek also emphasized that the rise in minimum wage is “particularly challenging” for businesses who have been struggling with the pandemic, but said, “Like everything else, there’s their costs and their benefits. And I think in this case,  the benefits clearly outweigh the costs.”

Pasadena Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Paul Little, reached for comment Monday, said, “I understand why the City Council did not want to revisit the minimum wage discussion, but that is very disappointing to local businesses who have laid off or furloughed so many employees during the pandemic.” 

Little also pointed out that, “Adding the additional burden of higher employee costs likely means profitability for those businesses is that much further in the future. It likely means businesses will call back fewer employee, or cut back on the hours of those who are called back.”

There are very few ways to reduce costs, said Little, and said that it is currently  impossible to increase revenues to pre-COVID levels. 

“Raising prices is simply not an option right now for local businesses,” continued Little,  “so employee costs are the only expense item they can reduce.” 

Ironically, one of the arguments heard in the minimum wage discussion early on was that non-profits would be hurt by the raise, and would be unable to pay their staff members the required raises.

Chamber President Little also said that, “No one here makes close to minimum wage,” but told Pasadena Now that “COVID is forcing furloughs 40% for all Chamber staff after the 4th of July.”

But, said Christy Zamani, Executive Director for Day One, a local public health non-profit, “None of our employees receive under $20 an hour. “As an organization that believes in the quality of life, we need to provide people with a living wage.”

As Zamani explained, Day One is a member of The Partnership for Children, Youth, and Families, and she serves as the chair.

According to their website, the Partnership is a collaboration of more than 150 individuals, public entities, and community-based agencies focused on school readiness for preschoolers, quality programs for children and youth when they are not in school, and positive youth development.

“We have about 20 other nonprofits around the table,” she said, “and everybody supports staff and the community members having a living wage. I definitely don’t think this is an issue for nonprofits, being that our aim is to help people, and understand that people need to live.”

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