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Santa Monica Council Sends Proposed Minimum Wage Law Back for Tweaking

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

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Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Hector Gonzalez
Special to The Lookout           

September 30, 2015 -- After hearing from low-wage workers, union organizers, hotel and restaurant officials and others during a marathon public hearing over a proposed minimum wage ordinance, Santa Monica City Council members Tuesday night directed staff to re-write the proposal and return with a new draft ordinance.

Council members went well past midnight listening to more than 55 people speak on the draft ordinance that would have raised the minimum wage for all workers in the City to $10.50 an hour in July and then gradually increase it until it reaches $15 an hour in 2020.

Under the proposal, the minimum wage would go up to $10.50 per hour by next summer, increase to $12 in 2017, $13.25 in 2018 and $14.25 in 2019.

After much debate, the Council voted unanimously—with Councilman Ted Winterer absent--to retain that basic formula in any final ordinance.

But the members directed staff to study several related issues and include them in a new draft ordinance. Specifically, Council members want to see provisions that address guaranteed sick days for workers, wage theft and enforcement, exemptions for seasonal workers, and to ensure that tips earned by hotel and restaurant workers go to the workers not employers.

Rather than parsing out those concerns individually Tuesday night, Council members asked staff to return with an overarching ordinance that addresses all of these primary issues.

“I'd like to see a comprehensive ordinance, rather than trying to address these on a piecemeal basis,” Councilwoman Gleam Davis.

However, the Council split on how quickly the City could adopt its comprehensive minimum wage law, which some Council members have been fighting to adopt for at least the past decade.

City Manager Rick Cole said staff would need at least until the December 22 meeting to have a new draft ordinance in place for the council to review and vote on.

A second reading officially adopting the ordinance would not be able to be heard until at least January, given the changes the Council is asking for, Cole said.

“Frankly, I'm disappointed to hear that,” said Mayor Kevin McKeown, who had hoped to have the minimum ordinance to vote on by November.

Other Council members, however, said it was crucial to get community buy in before moving forward. In the end, McKeown agreed to go along with the majority and not rush the process.  

In its basic form, Santa Monica's minimum wage proposal closely follows the one approved by the Los Angeles City Council in June, which delays the minimum wage increase by one year for businesses with 25 or fewer employees.         

But unlike the Los Angeles ordinance, Santa Monica's proposal includes a provision to exempt unionized workers who negotiate their own wage packages and collectively sign off on contract agreements.      

The exemption stirred controversy when it came under harsh criticism from the Employment Policies Institute, which took out a full page ad in the Los Angeles Times this week showing labor union leaders pulling the strings at Santa Monica City Hall.

It turned out to be a non-issue Tuesday night, however, after Council members quickly agreed to keep the exemption as part of any future minimum wage ordinance.

“We're rock solid on that issue, and the full newspaper ad had no impact on us,” McKeown said.

Councilwoman Susan Himmelrich said she was initially opposed to the union exemption, but changed her mind after speaking with several union employees.

“What I learned was that most people who work in these low wage jobs would prefer to have a union negotiating on their behalf for better benefits in different aspects of their lives,” she said.

Council members also agreed to leave in a proposal that mirrors Los Angeles' special hotel workers minimum wage, which is scheduled to go to $15 an hour in July 2017, with annual cost-of-living increases in subsequent years.

Any new minimum wage ordinance should include a tough enforcement component, beyond holding employers accountable in civil court for flaunting the minimum wage ordinance, Council members also agreed.

McKeown noted that the City of Los Angeles is considering creating an office to enforce its minimum wage ordinance and suggested Santa Monica could participate in that effort.

“We are going to get it done,” said McKeown. “Although I would like to see it happen sooner, we will have a minimum wage ordinance in Santa Monica.”

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