In yet another delay in the process of hammering out the minimum wage ordinance in Long Beach, the city council voted last night to delay discussion on a recently revised draft until a full council was present to discuss the matter.
The request to delay the matter was made by Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price, who was absent from last night’s meeting. The 6-2 vote in favor of the postponement pushes the discussion of the newly drafted ordinance to the first meeting of September because the council does not meet on the last Tuesday of the month. Council members Roberto Uranga and Jeannine Pearce voted against the motion.
The decision drew support from some of Price's council colleagues, like Eighth District Councilman Al Austin and Vice Mayor Rex Richardson, who took turns emphasizing the need for a full council to reach a decision that will ultimately affect the entire city, stating that a “slower win” and getting it done right was a better alternative to rushing it.
“Sometimes these things happen,” Richardson said. “I think it was articulated well that sometimes it’s okay to take your time and get it right and make sure everyone has a chance to weigh in on it so there’s some finality to it when it does happen.”
Uranga, though, took exception to the absence of Price and to the idea of making workers, who took time to be present at last night’s meeting, come back at a future date.
“When we put something on the agenda it’s our responsibility to look at it, to read it, to determine its implications and to determine whether or not we want to be here,” Uranga said. “I see a lot of people who are here and ready to discuss this issue, who have taken time off from their jobs, taken time off from their families, from their personal time to be here.”
The postponement will have no bearing on the implementation date of January 1, 2017 when the first scheduled wage increase is set to take effect. Price said that her absence was planned as part of an annual family vacation prior to the start of her children's school year, adding that city staff was aware of the absence before the item was added to last night's agenda.
Under the current version of the ordinance, the first wage increase would be made in stride with the recently passed state minimum wage law which is $10.50 by 2017. After that, the Long Beach plan would jump to $12 in 2018 and continue to outpace the state’s raise schedule by a year, hitting the $15 mark in 2021 for large businesses and 2022 for small businesses.
Part of the delay has been due to the state’s passage of its minimum wage law in April, mere months after the city finally voted to approve its $13 per hour wage with a “pathway” to $15. The state’s move forced the city to recalculate some of its provisions including the “pathway” which included an assessment of the raise schedule in 2019 that would precede a vote on whether or not to proceed on the path to $15.
Not voting to go forward would put the city at odds with the state law when it catches up to the city’s wage of $13 per hour, which it will reach in 2019 under the current model. A possible revision noted in a city memo adds excluding the mention of the study or having the city ordinance sunset in 2021 if the council votes not to proceed with an additional wage hike after the 2019 move to $13.
Members of the public who attended last night’s meeting expecting to be part of the discussion were upset by the idea that they would have to wait at least two more weeks for a possible resolution of the city’s ordinance.
“Me coming here, taking my day off, I’m here because I’m in support of it but I’m definitely not in support of keeping on pushing back this date on this ordinance,” said Joshua Jimenez, who works at a shoe store in the city. “It needs to be talked about, it needs to be addressed because I’m tired of coming to these meetings.”
Gabrielle Sibal, a representative of Gabriella Los Angeles, an LA-based advocacy group supporting Filipino women, said the time for waiting and postponement was over.
“We think that this minimum wage policy needs to happen now,” Sibal said. “Fifteen dollars, now, with strong wage enforcement.”
Other issues that have popped up since the state’s law was signed into effect by Gov. Jerry Brown are the reliance on the consumer price index (CPI) to account for raises of the minimum wage after it hits $15 in the city as well as how long someone can be paid a “learner’s wage,” which amounts to 85 percent of the minimum wage.
Variances between the state and Long Beach in the definition of CPI could lead to conflicts with the state’s wage and the discussion which will now take place in September will decide whether to abandon that language or to have the city’s ordinance sunset in 2023 and have the state CPI take over. The discrepancy of the length of time a learner’s wage can be paid (480 hours for Long Beach, 160 hours for California) is also expected be addressed at the meeting.
The first scheduled meeting for the city council next month is September 6.
[Editors note: The story has been updated to reflect Price's explanation for her absence from last night's meeting.]