IN a historic move, the California Legislature voted on Thursday, March 31 to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next six years.
With a 26 to 12 vote in the Senate and 48 to 26 vote in the Assembly, the landmark measure would make California the state with the highest minimum wage in the nation.
Following the plan, the state’s hourly minimum wage rate would increase from $10 to $10.50 on Jan. 1, 2017. By 2018, it will go up to $11 and increase by $1 annually until 2022. Businesses with fewer than 26 employees would get until 2023 to reach $15.
Estimates show that nearly 6.5 million workers, or 43 percent of the workforce, in California would benefit from the raise. Currently, around 5.6 million Californians (32 percent of the state’s workforce) live off the minimum wage, according to state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De León (D-Los Angeles).
On Thursday, De León said, “this is historic, and today I am proud to be a Californian.”
Ahead of the vote, Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Alameda) called the measure one of the most “transformative actions the Legislature will take.”
“By passing the measure on minimum wage, it will forever change the lives of tens of thousands of Californians who are living in poverty,” he told the Asian Journal.
He further applauded the measure as a win for the state’s workers and employers.
“For small businesses, when minimum wage earners get more money in their pockets, they’ll be taking that money and spending it in the economy, at retail stores, and at Filipino-owned businesses. It will be good for businesses,” Bonta said. “But overall, it’s more productivity for these workers and employers. It’s healthier employees. These are all good things that small businesses owners should want. The positive outcomes that studies show far outweigh any negative ones. It’s a win-win for the state of California.”
Despite the praise for the measure’s passage, some opponents argued that it will be detrimental for businesses, and are urging Governor Jerry Brown to veto the bill. According to reports, only two Democrats vote against the measure, while not a single Republican in either chamber voted in favor.
“While $15 an hour probably isn’t even high enough for areas like San Francisco and parts of Los Angeles and our other urban centers, it’s too high for some small businesses and some communities,” Assemblyman Tom Daly of Anaheim, one of the Democrats who voted against the bill, told the Los Angeles Times.
The National Federal of Independent Business (NFIB) noted that the bill was passed without input from small businesses.
“There is no question that a $15 minimum wage would have devastating impacts on small businesses in California. Over 90 percent of our 22,000 small businesses across the state have told us in no uncertain terms that an increase in the minimum wage will negatively affect their ability to operate, and potentially put them at risk of closing their doors permanently,” NFIB/CA State Executive Director Tom Scott said in a statement. “Ignoring the voices and concerns of the vast majority of job creators in this state is deeply concerning and illustrates why many feel Sacramento is broken.”
State Sen. Ted Gaines (R-Rocklin) said, “Our job in this building is to help people climb the economic ladder, not cut off the bottom rungs. That is exactly what will happen if we shove this unprecedented cost increase on businesses.”
Michael Saltsman, research director of the Employment Policies Institute, told CNN that “California may be the first state to pass a $15 minimum wage, but it will also be the first to find out why that’s a bad idea.”
Already cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle have passed measures to boost their minimum wages to $15 an hour throughout the next few years. In Oregon, Governor Kate Brown signed legislation that makes it the first state in the country requiring higher pay in cities than in rural areas. By 2022, the minimum wage in Portland is set to hit $14.75 per hour.
On Friday, April 1, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the state legislature reached an agreement to raise the minimum wage in New York City to $15 per hour by 2018. Under the state budget, employers across the state will also be required to give workers 12 weeks of paid family leave beginning in 2018.
As of this writing, Gov. Brown was expected to sign the bill on Monday, April 4, officially making California the first state to raise the minimum wage more than $10. (Christina M. Oriel with reports from Agnes Constante / AJPress)