Long Beach Business Owners, Workers Weigh in on Wages at Economic Development Hearing

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Jack Smith speaking to the Economic Development and Finance Committee at the Long Beach City College minimum wage hearing Thursday. Photo by Jason Ruiz 

The halfway point of the City of Long Beach’s scheduled outreach effort regarding a potential minimum wage hike in the city was hosted by the Economic Development and Finance Committee at Long Beach City College this morning.

Members of the public took time to share their views on the issue at the meeting, ahead of the anticipated early November report from the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation.

The forum served to continue a dialogue between stakeholders in the city with both local business owners and workers presenting their feelings toward the potential wage hike. The Long Beach City Council approved a study to be conducted by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC) in August, one that is expected to be completed and returned the city early next month. The LAEDC was the same group that carried out the study that preceded a minimum wage hike in Los Angeles County earlier this year.

The comments made at this morning’s meeting echoed remarks made from the outset when the city decided to take up the issue of whether or not it should follow in the footsteps of other major cities across the country like Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles in raising its minimum wage.

Workers in the city testified that a wage would not only make it easier to make ends meet, but also improve the quality of their life by making it easier to spend time with family instead of working extensive hours.

Business owners warned that a hike in wages could lead to layoff or worse: businesses packing up shop and leaving the city altogether.

Ron Schuster, representing the Restaurant Advisory Group LLC., said that at a recent seminar on workman’s compensation that he attended, one of the biggest concerns was the minimum wage in Long Beach. He said that a raise in wages wouldn’t just affect how much people take home but also add to the overhead for owners in the form of payroll taxes and insurance, noting that recent wage hikes in the past have led to local restaurants downsizing their staffs.

“Malarkey’s in Long Beach has lowered their employment from 65 to 45 because over time, [when] you raise the minimum wage one dollar, it has a rippling effect through the business, because everyone wants a pay raise,” Schuster said.

Concerns over the cost of labor led multiple business owners who spoke during the meeting to state that another ripple effect would occur on their end in the form of higher prices and most likely less workers. One restaurant owner said the proposed wage hike to $15 per hour would nearly double his weekly payroll from $5,000 to $8,000. He said that while most of his employees are minimum wage workers and most held two to three jobs, they were happy and made “adequate” money.

“People [who] don’t work the number of hours needed to support themselves are asking us to support them and it doesn’t work,” he said.

edcfIn May, the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) released a report showing how many full-time jobs a person in a given city would have to work in order to meet the cost of living in a given region of the country. The NLIHC, which advocates for affordable housing and has released the same report for the past 15 years, found that California was the their most expensive state to live in and LA-Long Beach area required a wage of over $27 dollars an hour to pay a fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment. The calculation, given the region’s current minimum wage of $9 per hour, equaled to a 122 hour work week, or three full-time minimum wage jobs.

Rosa Ramos, a resident of the city for nearly 30 years, lives that three-job reality. She said she’s forced to work that often to support her four children. She came to the meeting to ask the members of the committee for their help in raising wages in the city so she can spend more time with her children.

“I don’t have time to give her [daughter] the basic needs, I’m asking for your help, help me help my daughter and be in my daughter's life,” Ramos said through an interpreter. “Would you be able to have my life, living with three jobs?”

The room on the school’s Liberal Arts campus, usually reserved for the board of trustees meetings, was less than half occupied for the 7:30AM start. Aside from the usual non-profit groups that have formed a coalition pushing to raise the wage in Long Beach, public comment outside local business owners was nearly zero. Aside from the listing of the meeting on the city’s website, it’s unclear what kind of promotion efforts the meeting was given or how the time of the meeting affected attendance given it was a Thursday morning.

Earlier this week, the Economic Development Commission (ED) had their own public hearing on the developments with the minimum wage issue facing the city. The commission voted unanimously to draft a letter to Mayor Robert Garcia requesting a larger window for them to form recommendations after they review the LAEDC’s report. It was previously asked that the commission provide its feedback by November 24, ahead of the anticipated city council hearing on the item in December.

Jack Smith, a board member of the Central Area Project Council and member of the city’s recent medical cannabis task force, agreed that more time was needed for such an important city decision. As he stated to the EDC Tuesday night, the medical cannabis task force requested and was granted additional time to hammer out their recommendations to the council. He suggested that the EDC be given the same courtesy and that the city not rush to a decision.

“I think this particular issue is much, much, much more important to all of the residents of the city than medical cannabis,” Smith said. “And it therefore needs a good long time of consideration before any recommendations are made or anything proceeds to establish a minimum wage.”



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