California May Raise Minimum Wage To $15/Hour

| by Robert Fowler
Minimum wage workers protest for a $15 per hour minimumMinimum wage workers protest for a $15 per hour minimum

California Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown has struck a deal with state unions to introduce a $15-an-hour minimum wage. If approved by the state legislature, the pay hike would make California the highest minimum-wage state in the country.

As of Jan. 1, California adopted a $10 minimum wage, one of the highest in the country. Certain areas of the Golden State already had adopted a $15 minimum wage, but union leaders had been pushing for an statewide hike.

“It’s the right time for this,” Steve Trossman of United Healthcare Workers West told The Los Angeles Times.

“If you think about trying to live on less than $21,000 a year, it’s pretty hard to get by on that," he added.

Brown had previously dismissed calls for the minimum wage to be raised to $15-an-hour, especially after the 2013 deal already raised the state minimum to $10.

“It’s just a matter of balance,” Brown said in January. “I think raising the minimum wage can be good, but it has to be done very carefully.”

Brown’s guarded stance on another minimum wage hike changed after Trossman’s union gathered 423,236 voter signatures, enabling the measure to be included in a Nov. 8 statewide ballot.

“All of the polling that we’ve done shows that it would be highly likely to pass,” Trossman said.

Following a 2014 amendment to state law, California Union leaders have the option to withdraw their ballot initiatives if lawmakers can move forward on legislation that would satisfy their agenda. This gave the unions leverage in negotiations.

After Brown convened a meeting between the labor unions and private businesses, they agreed to implement a $15-an-hour raise incrementally: 50 cents added the first two years, then a dollar for each successive year until the state reached $15 by 2022. Small businesses would have an extra year to comply with these requirements. 

The deal was outlined on Mar. 27, and an official announcement is expected as early as Mar. 28.

“This is a very big deal,” general counsel Paul Sonn of the National Employment Law Project told The Seattle Times. “It would mean a raise for one of every three workers in the state.”

If the deal is finalized, it will then have to be passed by the California State Legislature.

All eyes will be on California as it becomes a laboratory for the the progressive economic policy. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has been pushing for a $15-per-hour federal wage, a massive increase from the current $7.25.

While the minimum wage hike can provide relief for struggling workers who have seen their cost of living pass their income, the deal has left some Californians nervous about the economic repercussions.

“Will the cost of things go up?” Miguel Sanchez, a 43-year-old cook who works two jobs, asked in an interview with The Los Angeles Times.

“Are employers going to cut back hours because they can’t afford it? I worry.”

Whether or not the $15-an-hour minimum wage proves to be successful, there is no doubt that the rest of the country will be eyeing California to see if one of the most progressive economic proposals stimulates growth or stifles commerce.

Sources: The Los Angeles Times (2), The Seattle Times / Photo Credit: Mark Boster/The Los Angeles Times, Fibonacci Blue/Flickr

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