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Path Toward $15 Minimum Wage in Santa Monica Begins Friday
Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark
Roque & Mark Real Estate
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Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica


By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

June 28, 2016 -- Some workers in Santa Monica will receive a raise on Friday when the first phase of the new local minimum wage law goes into effect.

This will be a historic day for a city where activists and officials have been fighting for more than 15 years to raise the hourly pay for workers to a so-called living wage.

Local businesses with 26 or more employees must begin paying their workers at least $10.50 per hour beginning Friday. This is an increase for the lowest-paid workers, who currently make $10 per hour based on the state minimum.

The minimum pay will increase next year to $12 per hour. Gradual annual increases will follow until the hourly pay reaches $15 in 2020.

Smaller businesses and certain nonprofit organizations will have to follow this same pattern, but a year behind each time, so their employees are earning at least $15 per hour by 2021.

Annual pay increases will continue for all minimum-wage workers after reaching $15 based on a consumer price index (CPI) formula.

Non-unionized hotel workers will begin earning a minimum of $13.25 per hour on Friday. This amount will be increased next year to $15.37 plus “an inflation measure” based on the CPI.

Unionized hotel workers with a collective bargaining agreement are exempt from the law.

The law also features guaranteed sick days -- 40 hours for large businesses (32 hours for small businesses) beginning Jan. 1 and 72 hours (40 hours for small businesses) beginning in 2018.

“This is a proud night for Santa Monica,” said City Councilmember Kevin McKeown in April when the law was finalized. “It’s proud for our values. It’s proud for our process” ("Council Makes Tweaks to Santa Monica Minimum Wage Law," April 29, 2016).

McKeown was one of five council members who voted 15 years ago for what was called the living wage ordinance, guaranteeing a minimum hourly pay of $12 per for most employees working “in the coastal and downtown areas and have gross annual receipts over $5 million.”

This was the first time in the United Sates that a local government set a floor for private employers’ hourly pay. Passage of the law gained national attention.

But before the new law could go into effect, business leaders and other opponents gathered enough signatures to place the issue before the voters.

The proposed ordinance, Measure JJ, appeared on a crowded ballot in November 2002. Opponents, including hotel and restaurant business leaders, spent nearly $3 million on the campaign to defeat the measure.

They succeeded.

"It was money that snatched the victory from us,” Vivian Rothstein, head of the living wage campaign, told The Lookout on the day of the defeat. “It was sheer greed."

She promised that proponents of a higher minimum wage would “continue to fight on” ("Wage Battle Ends with Dashed Hopes," November 6, 2016).

It would be a long wait, and before the Santa Monica council began seriously considering a new living wage law in 2014, Seattle had already made national headlines with the adoption of a $15 minimum.

Santa Monica was not the trailblazer in adopting a minimum wage for private employers. However, it is still among the first in the nation to do so.

Only a handful of cities, including Los Angeles, have adopted a $15 minimum wage (or any minimum at all), but the number continues to grow.

California also adopted the $15 minimum wage when Gov. Brown signed a bill in April that sets a path for the magical number to be reached in 2022.

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