Los Angeles Becomes Largest City to Adopt $15 Minimum Wage

Los Angeles, California, the nation’s second largest city, set a new milestone today, becoming the latest and largest city to set a $15 per hour minimum wage.  The city council voted 14-1 to adopt a plan that will raise the minimum wage in annual steps to $15 by 2020 for large employers and by 2021 for those with 25 or fewer employees.  The council directed the city attorney to draft the new ordinance and include a provision to tie further increases to rising consumer prices, so that minimum wage workers won’t fall further behind.

The dramatic move by Los Angeles elected officials was immediately hailed as one of the most significant wage increases among those being adopted locally, heralding further action to raise wages in many more cities and states.

The Los Angeles Times called the $15 minimum wage move in L.A. the latest in “a trend sweeping cities across the country as elected leaders seek to boost stagnating pay for workers on the lowest rungs of the socio-economic ladder.”

The New York Times said the L.A. wage increase “is perhaps the most significant victory so far for labor groups and their allies who are engaged in a national push to raise the minimum wage.”

The current minimum wage in Los Angeles is $9 per hour, which is the state of California’s minimum wage.  Under the plan approved today, the minimum wage paid by larger employers will increase to $10.50 on July 1, 2016; $12 in 2017; $13.25 in 2018; $14.25 in 2019; and to $15 in 2020.  The increases at smaller employers would follow the same plan beginning in 2017.

“The impact of the council’s endorsement of a $15 minimum wage is huge,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project.  “Analysis of a similar earlier proposal, raising the rate to $15.25 by 2019, found that more than 600,000 workers—over 40 percent of the L.A. workforce—would ultimately benefit from the increase. Following so close on the heels of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s groundbreaking appointment of a wage board to recommend pay increases for hundreds of thousands of fast-food workers across New York State, the L.A. City Council’s endorsement of $15 is further proof that what seemed an unrealistic economic aspiration only two years ago is mainstream economic reality today.”

Los Angeles joins the cities of Seattle, San Francisco, and SeaTac, Washington, in adopting a $15 minimum wage.  Emeryville, California has enacted a $16 minimum wage plan.  Chicago has adopted a $13 minimum.

Many more cities are expected to follow suit, as municipalities including Portland, Maine, Olympia and Tacoma, Washington, Sacramento and Davis, California, and Washington, D.C. are looking at $15 minimum wage proposals or ballot initiatives.  $15 proposals are also being considered in California, Oregon and New York, where the opening salvo was Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recent announcement that a special wage board will look to substantially raise minimum wages for fast-food workers.

Los Angeles’s move to $15 could well serve as the benchmark for the New York fast-food wage rate, and for broader wage increases beyond fast-food.

“After all, if fast-food workers cannot live on $9 an hour or so, neither can similarly low-paid workers in other fields,” wrote the editors of the New York Times this week, urging the governor to empanel additional wage boards to raise wages in other low-paying industries and to set a higher overall minimum wage in New York City.

The growing movement toward higher minimum wages is raising pressure to boost the federal minimum wage as well, where Congressional inaction has kept that rate frozen at $7.25 per hour since 2009.  Congressional Democrats recently introduced the Raise the Wage Act, which would increase the federal minimum to $12 by 2020 and eliminate the subminimum wage for tipped workers over several years.  Republican leaders have given no indication that they would allow hearings or votes on that proposal.

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About the Author

Mitchell Hirsch

Areas of expertise:
  • Living Wage & Minimum Wage,
  • Unemployment Insurance

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