Business & Economy

Long Beach City Council votes to study minimum wage hike (updated)

Activists gathered at Long Beach City Hall in support of raising the minimum wage on August 11, 2015.
Activists gathered at Long Beach City Hall in support of raising the minimum wage on August 11, 2015.
Brian Watt/ KPCC

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The Long Beach City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to commission a study of the impact of raising the city's minimum wage - to even higher than the wage hike coming to Los Angeles.

“We’re not talking about 15 [dollars per hour] -  I don’t even know what that was about,” Long Beach Councilmember Dee Andrews told a rally of a few dozen activists before the meeting.  “We’re looking at 16 [dollars per hour].”

The vote was Long Beach’s first official step towards following the lead of the city and county of Los Angeles. In recent months, officials in both governments have moved to raise the minimum wage gradually to $15 per hour by 2020, giving businesses with 25 employees or fewer and some non-profits a one-year lag time.

The Long Beach City Council heard more than an hour of public comment. Warehouse workers and port truck drivers complained about wage theft and worker misclassification. Business owners warned that their costs would go up if the minimum wage goes up.

Already, some workers in the city have carve-outs for higher minimum wages. In late 2012,  a voter-approved measure raised the minimum wage for employees of large hotels in the City to $13 an hour. Early last year, the City Council raised the minimum wage for workers at Long Beach Airport and the Long Beach Convention Center.

Donald Blackwood, a bellman at the Long Beach Hilton, told the Council that seeing his wages jump from $9 per hour to $13 made him feel more like “a normal person.”
 
“I’m not poor. I’m not living check to check, I’m not scraping change,” Blackwood said. “I just want that for everybody else in the city.”

Councilmembers ultimately voted Tuesday night to request a report from the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation on the potential benefits and risks of implementing a citywide minimum wage - and on proposals for tax incentives and other ways to help businesses and non-profits comply with a higher wage. The LAEDC has already conducted a minimum wage study for the LA County Board of Supervisors.

Economist Christine Cooper, of the LAEDC, said the study would take about 60 days to complete.
 
“We want to do this study and recommend policy changes that are unique and specific to the city of Long Beach,” Council member Suzie Price said. “We don’t want to do what everyone else has done.” 

Earlier this month, four council members called for the study and Mayor Robert Garcia quickly endorsed the idea, saying the study would take several months and cost about $65,000. 

In May, the Los Angeles City Council approved a plan to increase the minimum wage gradually to $15.00 per hour by 2020, with businesses with 25 employees or fewer getting a one-year delay. Mayor Eric Garcetti signed the measure in June. 

In July, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved the same wage-hike schedule for businesses located in the County's unincorporated areas. 

The move by Los Angeles has pressured other cities in the county to consider a wage hike. Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Pasadena and Long Beach are all taking about the possibility.

Long beach is also following the pattern of L.A. city and county officials, who commissioned studies of the impact of raising the wage before voting.

Long Beach is California's 7th largest city, and it currently represents just under five percent of the jobs in Los Angeles County, according to June numbers from the state's Employment Development Department, the most recent available. It had 223,600 of the county's 4.7 million jobs.

This story has been updated.

Follow KPCC's Brian Watt for updates from Tuesday's vote: