Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

California Eyes $15, Statewide Minimum Wage: Why That Matters

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

California Eyes $15, Statewide Minimum Wage: Why That Matters

Article excerpt

California could have a $15-an-hour statewide minimum wage, the largest statewide minimum wage by far, by 2022, a state senator has said, but only if state lawmakers and labor unions can get the tentative deal through the legislature.

Increasing the minimum wage has become a pressing issue around the United States, but so far only a patchwork of cities and states have passed laws raising minimum wages above the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour. Washington, D.C., currently has the highest minimum wage at $10.50 an hour, with California itself only just behind at $10.

Growing income inequality in the US has helped make the "Fight for $15" movement a national issue, with a financially stretched middle class sympathizing with low-wage employees like fast food workers, who have become the poster children for the movement.

California's $5 statewide increase would be staggered over six years, according to the Los Angeles Times, which first reported the deal. Businesses with fewer than 25 employees would have an extra year, until 2023, to comply.

But state Sen. Mark Leno (D) of San Francisco, who saw a bill to raise the minimum wage stall last year, stressed that the legislature will still have to approve the increase.

"This is not a done deal," he told the Associated Press on Saturday. "Everyone's been operating in good faith and we hope to get it through the Legislature."

If the minimum wage increase does stall again in the legislature, it could get implemented via a ballot measure. One union-backed initiative - which would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2021 - has already qualified for the ballot, and a second - which would reach the $15 mark even earlier, by 2020 - is also trying to qualify.

Businesses and Gov. Jerry Brown (D) have said such a steep, rapid increase would be incredibly costly, but union leaders have said they would not immediately drop planned ballot measures, even if the legislature approves an increase.

"We want to be certain of what all this is," Sean Wherley, a spokesman for SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, told AP.

The SEIU parent union has been involved in negotiations with state legislators, he confirmed. …

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