Los Angeles Leading on Living Wages Needs to Protect Flanks

IMG_0022New Orleans     Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is getting some attention in the second largest city in the United States with a proposal to raise the city’s minimum wage to $13.25 an hour by 2017. The City Council is expected to approve the plan, and when enacted 37% of Los Angeles workers or 567000 people would get pay raises according to a study done by the UC-Berkeley Labor Center. All of this is on the backs of a recent vote by the City Council to set a wage floor for hotel workers in properties with 125 rooms or more to $15.37 per hour which still has that industry screaming and grinding their teeth.

It’s about time! It has been a mystery for years why community and labor-backed organizations in Los Angeles have not pulled the trigger and taken advantage of the ability to directly petition to put an increase on the ballot setting a minimum wage higher than the state’s $9 per hour, which is what led to San Francisco’s city minimum of $10.74 per hour now in effect. Not a huge mystery, since it might have been cheaper and easier to get the job done with contributions to election races rather than pull the weight to organize the necessary signatures and then get the vote out to win the election, although it would have built deeper organization and power for community and labor organizations.

Whatever. Better late than never, and perhaps this will put more wind in the sails of other cities and political jurisdictions in California to get the job done. Some conservative and business commentators are trying to argue that generations old reputation of Los Angeles as an anti-union, low wage mecca despite labor’s turnaround over the last 30 years is still evident in the generally lower average production/factory wages and overall wages that significantly trail San Francisco and Seattle which are also implementing higher minimum wages. The Chamber claims jobs will relocate elsewhere in Southern California, but that’s easier said than done especially given the huge role of the port and transportation infrastructure in the Los Angeles corridor which depends on proximity not distance.

We’ll see. Mayor Garcetti is not unmindful of the problem and says that he is lobbying other neighboring cities to buck up and raise their wages as well. This may be a question of “sticks and stones” rather than words though. The Mayor might do better at protecting his flank if he joined with living wage advocates and organizations to raise the funds to put living wage, minimum wage increases on the ballot in neighboring municipalities and let the voters decide. Putting minimum wage increases in the hands of the people when the wage is fair and the campaign is aggressive has been a winning strategy for the last 15 years, and could put Los Angeles at the head of the parade, rather than allowing it to march through Southern California by itself.