Los Angeles Vote for $15 Minimum Wage May Spread to Other Cities

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The Great Minimum Wage Debate Explained

Los Angeles is set to become the largest American metropolis to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour, in a decision its top labor official said should inspire other large U.S. cities to follow suit.

The City Council Tuesday voted to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2020, a move expected to boost the salaries of about 800,000 workers. The decision puts Los Angeles in the company of San Francisco and Seattle, which are setting their wage floors at $15 between 2018 and 2021.

Congress hasn’t moved to raise the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour since 2009. That’s left states and cities to act on their own. They join companies such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., McDonald’s Corp, and Target Corp. that have pledged to boost pay under pressure from organized labor.

“We’ve now seen the second-largest city in this country raise wages for three-quarters of a million people and it shows that large municipalities and some states are taking the lead on this issue,” said Rusty Hicks, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, which represents 600,000 workers.

New York Mayor Bill De Blasio called for raising his city’s minimum wage to more than $13 in 2016 and $15 per hour by 2019. De Blasio has said New York State’s $8.75 minimum, which is due to rise to $9 next year, is insufficient to make ends meet in the largest U.S. city.

Chicago’s City Council voted last December to boost the city’s lowest wage to $10 an hour this July from $8.25, and to $13 by 2019.

Federal Level

As of the beginning of the year, 29 states and the District of Columbia had set their minimum wage above the federal level, according to the National Employment Law Project, a New York-based advocacy group.

In Los Angeles, the council voted 14-1 to phase in the wage increase between July and 2020, which will keep California’s largest city ahead of the statewide minimum of $10 an hour at the beginning of next year.

“Help is on the way for the one million Angelenos who live in poverty,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement after the vote. “I started this campaign to raise the minimum wage to create broader economic prosperity in our city and because the minimum wage should not be a poverty wage in Los Angeles.”

Garcetti, a Democrat, last year proposed raising the city minimum wage to $13.25 an hour by 2017. His plan drew criticism from business groups who warned it would result in job losses, and from labor advocates who said it doesn’t go far enough in a city with the largest gap between incomes and housing prices.

The Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce voted last September to oppose Garcetti’s proposal, saying a minimum wage increase should be part of a larger economic-development plan.

“The council’s action today is going to have a significant impact on small businesses and non-profits throughout the city,” chamber President Gary Toebben said in a statement. “We have been urging the council to establish a longer phase-in so that small businesses would not be forced to cut employee hours or eliminate jobs in order to offset the increase in the minimum wage.”

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