Mayor Terry Tornek told Pasadena Now he still supports increasing the minimum wage to $15 on July 1.
“I think we need to honor what we’ve adopted,” Tornek said Wednesday.
The City Council in 2016 unanimously passed the city’s minimum wage ordinance. Some local business owners, mostly restaurateurs, opposed it.
Many of the business owners are once again calling for a freeze or a transfer to the state’s minimum wage schedule, which will not reach $15 until 2022. The businesses are getting closer to reopening, more than two months after having to close because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Wednesday, two dozen activists rallied at City Hall in support of the increase, in anticipation of a discussion to freeze the increase at today’s Economic, Development and Technology Committee meeting. That discussion is not on the agenda.
The EDTECH Committee today will discuss reopening restaurants.
“Deferring to the state would sort of level the playing field,” said Chamber of Commerce CEO Paul Little. “It would give Pasadena employers predictable outcomes and stabilize their payroll.”
According to Little, as restaurants and other businesses like day care centers reopen they may not be able to serve as many customers due to social distancing guidelines and other protocols. Fewer customers could lead to fewer employees, and a higher minimum wage could be the difference between how many jobs remain.
Pasadena restaurant owners are not the only ones calling for a pause to wage increases.
The call goes all the way to the state level, where the minimum wage for businesses with 25 employees or less is scheduled to increase to $13 an hour on January 1, and $14 for businesses with 26 or more employees.
Jot Condie, president of the California Restaurant Association, has asked Gov. Gavin Newsom to delay any increase. The state’s increase can be frozen under certain conditions, including a drastic negative shift in the economy.
Condie told the LA Times, after the crisis passes there will be “scorched earth” on the employment and restaurant landscape.
“Placing the subsequent minimum wage increases on ‘pause’ as authorized by the minimum wage law will help mitigate the damage,” Condie wrote in a letter to Newsom.
“I think from business to business, the, the difference between the current wage and what’s supposed to happen July 1 certainly would make a difference for all of them,” Tornek said. “We were getting a lot of pressure to roll that back long before the COVID crisis hit and frankly to try to help the businesses is laudable, but to help them on the backs of the people who earn the least in our workforce is not the way to go.”
According to City Councilman and EDTECH Committee member Andy Wilson, the priority now is just on opening restaurants.
“The question is about timing and whether it’s better to give businesses that are trying to reemerge and reopen a little bit more breathing room so they have an opportunity to bring jobs back into our community,” Wilson said. “If you load on the burden of getting the next increment of the minimum wage right now, does that help their odds or hurt their odds?”
Several restaurants have already closed. Others have been forced to do GoFundMe campaigns to try to make money to stay afloat.
“The businesses have been hammered, but the workers have been hammered as well,” Tornek said. “I think that the notion that we should roll back what they’ve been promised, which was, which was never construed as a living wage, just as a minimum wage is not viable as far as I’m concerned.”