Los Angeles County leaders vote to raise minimum wage in unincorporated areas

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A proposal to raise the minimum wage in Los Angeles County has passed, along with another that will raise the wages of employees of county contractors. We have a quick review of the three proposals the supervisors were expected to vote on below, along with a look at the unincorporated areas of L.A. County the wage hike would affect.

Updates

Update 7:00 p.m. Business owners express frustration with minimum wage hike

After nearly two hours of public comment, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich announced there were still more than 100 people who’d filled out cards to request a turn. 

“I go to school full-time , and I work full-time, so if we were to get paid more, I’d focus more on school and less on my job,” said Roberto Balanzar,  an engineering student at Cal State Long Beach who also works at Burger King.

He works to support his mother and four younger brothers. 

“My mom’s getting help from the government," Balanzar said. "That’s something I don’t want my mom to do. Or me.  I don’t want that in the future. I want to work for my own stuff.”

But several business owners  from Valencia to Torrance explained how they’re grappling with the coming wage increase. Bob Brandt, owner of the Red Car Brewery in Torrance, explained that 60 percent of his 35 employees earn the minimum wage.  The ones that earn a higher hourly wage will want a raise too. 

“I used to be an extremely optimistic person regarding my business and its prospects for growth,” he told the supervisors, clearly frustrated.     He estimated that when the minimum wage rises by one dollar, it will cost him an extra $160,000 annually.

Ken Wiseman of AMS Fulfillment put it bluntly: "What you are doing will force me to change the way I manage my business.” His company has operantions and employs more than 300 people in the unincorporated parts of Santa Clarita.

“I am looking to move operations outside of the area impacted by your decision," Wiseman said. "I’m looking to institute technology at the basic warehouse level.  It will replace jobs,and there will be people who currently work for me in the $9 to $10 per hour range who will not be able to adjust to the technology."

The county supervisors unanimously voted to study how the county government could patrol wage theft.  Victor Narro, Director of UCLA’s Labor Center. 

“In any work week, 8 in 10 low-wage workers in Los Angeles suffer from wage theft,” said Victor Narro, director of UCLA’s Labor Center, citing a study from the Center. “Individually, these workers lose $2,000 annually out of an average earning of $16,500.”

Brian Watt/KPCC

Update 2:52 p.m. Minimum wage, "living wage" hikes pass

L.A. County supervisors have voted to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020, along a 3-2 vote. The county will institute the wage hikes along the same schedule as the city of L.A.: 

Year Wage
2016 $10.50
2017 $12.00
2018 $13.25
2019 $14.25
2020 $15.00

The new minimum wage applies to the 10 percent of L.A. County workers in unincorporated parts of the county. 

Supervisors also voted to approve a higher "living wage," which would determine much businesses that contract with L.A. County would be required to pay their workers. Those contractors will now have to pay workers $9.64 per hour if they provide health insurance, and $11.84 if they don't. Both proposals passed by a 3-2 vote.

Supervisors Hilda Solis, Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl voted in favor of the minimum wage hike, while supervisors Michael Antonovich and Don Knabe voted against it.

With the city and county both on board, a total of 50 percent of workers in L.A. County will now be covered by a $15 minimum wage by 2020. The wage theft proposal also passed, with county staff set to look at how to enforce wage theft protection.

KPCC staff

Update 1:27 p.m. Garcetti makes his case; business owners respond 

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti spoke in favor of raising the minimum wage Tuesday, telling county supervisors that "poverty is more expensive" than the cost of an increase. 

"A higher wage in this county — in unincorporated areas, like in the city — will attract the best workers, the hardest working, the least training, the best cost-savings for our businesses," he said. 

Garcetti argued that the minimum wage boost across the city and county would work in tandem with other efforts, like tax breaks, to help boost efforts to bring good jobs — including manufacturing and film — back to L.A. 

"We're not doing this in a vacuum. We don't believe that raising the wage by itself is a comprehensive strategy. We're focused on key industries together," Garcetti said.

West Hollywood Mayor Lindsey Horvath agreed. "Raising the minimum wage isn't just the right thing to do, but it's the thing to do right now," she said. West Hollywood is one of several cities within L.A. County considering whether to raise minimum wages within its borders as well. 

The supervisors heard from a long list of opponents and proponents of the wage hike, including several small business owners who said the raise would affect them directly.

Before the hearing got underway, L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl voiced her support for the wage hike, saying that if people make more money, they'll spend more money.

Supervisor Don Knabe disagreed, saying that the county shouldn't rush to raise the minimum wage just because the city of L.A. had done so.

A crowd rallied outside the L.A. County Administration Building ahead of the vote on Tuesday morning.

Along with both minimum wage and "living wage" proposals, the county will consider how to prevent wage theft on Tuesday. That's when employers don't pay their employees what they're supposed to be making.

UCLA's Victor Narro said Tuesday that enforcing wage theft is just as important as raising the minimum wage.

KPCC staff

10:19 a.m. The 3 wage proposals to watch in today's county board meeting

L.A. County supervisors will vote on several proposals Tuesday intended to protect workers in the  unincorporated areas of L.A. They'd also apply to workers who provide county-contracted services. Here's a rundown of what they're expected to consider: 

The minimum wage

Supervisors will consider raising the minimum wage in the county's unincorporated areas to $15 an hour. This proposal follows the same plan that the city of Los Angeles approved in June. A county-commissioned report found that between 100,000 and 150,000 workers would see bigger paychecks if this is made law. Dozens of unincorporated strips of land are scattered across Los Angeles county, and include communities such as Hacienda Heights, Willowbrook, and East Los Angeles. These areas are considered "unincorporated" because they do not fall within the "city limits" of any of the county's 88 cities, and are governed by county's Board of Supervisors, rather than a city council.

The living wage

They'll also vote on a proposal to raise the county's "living wage," which is the minimum hourly rate that contractors who do business with the county must pay their employees. Under the current living wage ordinance, L.A. county's contractors (198 of them in all) must pay their employees at least $9.64 per hour if they provide health insurance, and $11.84 per hour if they don't. Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas' proposal would eliminate the two-tiered rate system and raise the living wage rate to $13.25 per hour. It would then rise about a dollar each year until reaching $15.79 per hour in 2019. County staff estimates this will cost the county an extra $2.7 million dollars next year, and $15.4 million by the year 2020. 

Wage theft enforcement

Then the five county leaders will decide whether to take a first step toward patrolling wage theft more strictly. With a majority vote, Supervisors Hilda Solis and Ridley-Thomas will direct county staff to gather more information about the county's legal authority to patrol wage theft. The results of that report could lead supervisors to propose future regulations and/or more county funding for more robust wage theft enforcement. Wage theft typically occurs when employers pay their workers less than the legally-required minimum wage. Labor advocates say employees are often reticent to report wage theft out of fear of losing their employment. The UCLA Labor Center compiled a national study on wage theft, and called Los Angeles the "wage theft capital of the country."

Brian Watt & Ben Bergman

Map: Los Angeles County's unincorporated areas

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