Moving toward what many consider an inevitable conclusion, the Pasadena City Council’s Economic Development and Technology committee held the second of four community meetings to consider policy and implementation of a new minimum wage ordinance in the city.
Villa Parke Community Center was packed with workers holding signs and ready to testify in a room that was overwhelmingly in support of the new wage ordinance.
The new ordinance would eventually increase the minimum wage in Pasadena to $15 per hour for all workers, by July 2020. If adopted, the wage increase would match incremental wage increases already passed in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and San Jose.
“I get the sense that we are eventually moving towards this, and we’re just trying to figure out how,” said Councilman Steve Madison.
‘We want to end up there,” said Committee Chair Victor Gordo, “but we want to be thoughtful and make sure we hear from everyone in the community.”
Added Councilman Tyler Hampton, “I feel like this is something that is going to happen.” Hampton also stressed that he was in favor of exempting young employees under 18, as well as some small businesses.
Mayor Terry Tornek, who is not a member of the committee, was in attendance at the meeting, saying he was “there to learn.” Tornek campaigned for mayor on a platform of raising the minimum wage.
According to a report presented by Daniel Flaming, of the Los Angeles Economic Roundtable, Pasadena incomes are among the highest in Southern California, with the average worker earning $34.08 per hour. Twenty-eight percent of the 95,000 workers in Pasadena currently earn less than the proposed $15 per hour, he said.
In addition, 79% of the jobs in Pasadena are with companies with 20 or more employees.
Retail, trade and education are among the lowest-paying fields in the City, said Flaming. He also alluded to fears of the impact the ordinance would have on business saying, “92% of businesses in Pasadena stay in business each year.”
Among the fields that would be “stressed” by a wage increase, said Flaming, are home health care, day care, restaurants and personal services. Seventeen percent of jobs in Pasadena may be affected, said Flaming, “but they can adapt.”
Elaborating on his theme, Flaming said, following his presentation, that the idea that businesses pack up and move, or close down following increases in wages, is a myth.
“That hasn’t happened,” he said, citing an L.A. County Economic Development Corporation study that found no such trend.
“Increasing the minimum wage levels the playing field for everyone,” he said. “It’s hard to move a business,” he stressed, asking, “Where will they move to? El Monte?”
The new ordinance, which has not yet been introduced, would likely have certain exemptions, including a company’s size, tips, collective bargaining agreements, training jobs, minimum hours, and child care providers.
A number of community residents spoke out in favor of the meeting, including attorney Elbie “Skip” Hickambottom, Jr., who said, “Pasadena is a world-class city, with world-class events and attractions, and I commend the council for its efforts to increase wages in this city.”
Hickambottom added, “If your business has to pay a wage that keeps your employees poor, then we don’t want your business in Pasadena.”
Residents, most of them lower-paid workers, also spoke out about the common practice of wage theft.
Pablo Alvarado of the National Day Labor Organizing Network talked about his own work in collecting “stolen wages” on behalf of his members and workers at the Pasadena Community Job Center.
“I have been met with knives, dogs, and guns, when I would go to ask employers to pay out workers wages,” Alvarado said.
Alvarado added that non-profits and churches should not be exempted from minimum wage ordinances.
Gary Moody, president of the NAACP Pasadena Chapter, spoke on behalf of caregivers and residential health care workers in favor of not exempting them from the minimum wage requirements.
“Don’t look to other cities,” he said. “Look at what we do here.”
Moody also spoke out in favor of paying younger workers a 100% minimum wage, as opposed to the 85% that has been proposed.
“Pay your people a full wage,” he said.
While a number of workers’ unions and associations spoke out in favor of the ordinance’s passage, at least one business has already committed to the idea.
Rodel Hidalgo, branch manager for Amalgamated Bank in Pasadena, told the committee that his bank raised the minimum wage for all his employees around the country to $15 an hour in August. The bank has nearly 400 employees in 17 branches across the nation.
“It’s time the men and women in our bank get a raise,” he said, adding, “we’ll pay every teller, customer service representative, clerk and janitor at least $15 an hour.”
“Although Amalgamated Bank adopted a $15 minimum wage on our own,” Hidalgo continued, “we think this should not be left to employers, but should be a matter of public policy.”
Rachel Torres, a research analyst with UniteHere Local 11, a hotel workers’ union, also told the committee that no recent hotel development has been stopped or stymied by increased minimum wage requirements.
“In fact,” she said, “Hotel developments are up everywhere across Southern California.”
Only one resident spoke out against the ordinance.
Ruth Tatom, owner of a small Pasadena pet store, said, “I ask that you consider everything. If this passes, we won’t be able to provide the benefits to our employees that we do. Retail is one of the areas that will be impacted.”
The next public meeting on the issue will be held November 19.