Business & Economy

Santa Monica City Council puts off minimum wage vote

Labor activists wait in the lobby as the Santa Monica City Council meets in closed session Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015.
Labor activists wait in the lobby as the Santa Monica City Council meets in closed session Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015.
Brian Watt/KPCC

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The Santa Monica City Council decided to put off a vote on raising the minimum wage. The council’s Tuesday evening meeting lasted into Wednesday morning and featured nearly 60 speakers from the public on the topic. 

Santa Monica and Los Angeles began studying the idea of a wage hike a year ago. L.A. officials gave final approval in June to a plan to raise the wage incrementally to $15 per hour by 2020. Days later, Santa Monica began drafting its own ordinance and inviting local businesses and nonprofits to public forums on the matter.

While the rate schedules are identical, Santa Monica city staff is recommending some differences from the L.A. plan, including a controversial exemption to the wage hike for companies that employ union workers under a collective bargaining agreement.

Business groups are crying foul over the proposed union exemption. Laurel Rosen, president of the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce, said her organization supports raising the minimum wage progressively on the same timetable as Los Angeles “because other cities are supporting the minimum wage. It makes sense that it’s regional, so there’s no unfair advantages in other cities.” But the union exemption would mean that level playing field would disappear. 

"It doesn’t seem reasonable. It doesn’t seem logical. Let’s let all the boats rise together. Let’s go ahead and move forward…with fairness,” Rosen told KPCC. "Why would a union want to be paying less?” 

But hotel employee and UNITE-HERE union member Jacqueline Martin defended the union exemption, explaining, "we are not paid less than the minimum wage — we have a lot of benefits."

She’s worked as a server at Le Meridien Delfina hotel in Santa Monica for 10 years. She says her benefits and salary together add up to well above $20 per hour.  The union exemption, she says, gives her, her co-workers and the hotel management the flexibility to negotiate that.

"Sometimes we have to sacrifice one thing to get another one, yes,” Martin said. “It’s a negotiation.” 

Santa Monica Mayor Kevin McKeown said that while a vote has been delayed likely until December, “union supercession” will be a part of the final ordinance. In a statement emailed to KPCC, McKeown wrote: 

“We have stated our intent clearly and publicly. As other cities in the region now adopt final implementations of the minimum wage, I hope our commitments can lead the discussion. I want to make Santa Monica a reference city for workers’ rights."

McKeown said that in the next few months, the city will conduct community outreach on related issues, including service charges in restaurants, paid sick days and both transitional and seasonal workers.