Minimum Wage Deal Passes First Legislative Hurdle

Protestors march through downtown Oakland calling for a $15/hour minimum wage. (Andrew Stelzer)

A proposal to gradually raise California’s minimum wage to $15 per hour will be debated on the Assembly floor Thursday. The speaker's office says it will be taken up after a ceremony to mark Cesar Chavez Day.

The minimum wage increase won passage out of the Assembly Appropriations Committee Wednesday. It was the first and only committee hearing for the revised SB 3. The bill was originally authored by Democratic state Sen. Mark Leno and then amended to incorporate the wage increase proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown and labor unions.

The proposal has drawn opposition from business groups. The California Chamber of Commerce has labeled it a "job killer." And the California Restaurant Association’s Matt Sutton says businesses are already being overwhelmed with increasing costs and regulations.

“It’s compliance with the Affordable Care Act. It’s rising workers compensation rates, rising unemployment insurance taxes and," he says, "still trying to get hands around the latest minimum wage increase.”

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California’s minimum wage increased to $10 an hour in January.

But San Diego Democrat Lorena Gonzalez argued the state is footing the bill for workers who can’t make ends meet.

“Even with a full-time job they’re relying on food stamps and public housing and free-lunch programs," she says. "We are subsidizing all of these businesses who are not providing enough for people to live on.”

The bill made it out of the committee on a largely party-line vote. But Anaheim Democrat Tom Daly voted against the measure, saying he doesn't support linking a minimum wage increase to the Consumer Price Index going forward.

Daly is among a group of moderate Democrats in the Assembly who are viewed as being more business-friendly. The unofficial caucus has influenced legislation before. But State Senator Mark Leno says he believes the so-called Mod Dems won't block the wage increase.

"The names that are sometimes associated with the moderate caucus have told me that they are going to be voting for it," he said.

A study from the UC Berkeley Labor Center finds 5.6 million low-wage earners would be affected by the pay increase, receiving an average annual earnings increase of $3,700.

If the Legislature approves the plan and the governor signs it, labor unions have indicated they’ll drop ongoing efforts to increase the wage through a November ballot measure.