Nearly half of Los Angeles just gave itself a raise. Following a wave of state and local minimum-wage bills and initiatives, Los Angeles became one of the largest cities to dramatically raise its hourly base pay and join Seattle to hit the magic $15-an-hour demand pushed by labor and community groups nationwide.
The City Council approved 14-1 this week an unprecedented minimum-wage increase, phased in over five years, covering up to 800,000 people and adding an estimated $5.9 billion in new income.
Workers currently earning the minimum wage make about $19,000 annually. Hotel workers led the way last year by pushing the city to set a sector-specific $15 hourly base pay. And the protests of the past year led by fast food and other low-wage workers has focused the legislative conversation around the figure at the center of the Fight for 15 movement.
Though some firms will face financial strains under the wage mandate, which is indexed to inflation, advocates anticipate the stimulus will help alleviate inequality by redistributing opportunity more fairly across the city’s polarized social landscape: the poorest households are concentrated in neighborhoods that will benefit the most from the wage increase, particularly for black and Latino workers, according to the think tank Economic Roundtable (ERT). This will also help generate more than 46,000 new jobs while pumping more than $400 million into local tax coffers.
“What we have been seeing happening is a real movement demanding a wage that families can live a decent life and be able to afford the basics,” says Laphonza Butler, head of the long-term care workers union SEIU-ULTCW, part of the Raise the Wage Coalition. Now other cities face pressure to follow suit, including New York, where the hardscrabble campaigners behind the first fast food strikes are now rallying around Governor Cuomo’s initiative to raise the industry’s pay through a special wage board.
Still, with sky-high housing costs, Los Angeles will remain unaffordable for a large swath of low-income families, even on a steady job at $15 an hour. But advocates hope the new wage, which is tied to paid sick leave, will provide a stronger baseline for workers to organize around, especially if they have the other half of the Fight-for-15 demand: union rights.