Photos by Stephanie Rivera.
Dozens of community members gathered at Admiral Kidd Park in West Long Beach on Tuesday to take part in the fourth of six scheduled public hearings authorized by the city council to discuss a possible minimum wage increase in the city.
The gathering, the second Mayor’s Roundtable in the series, featured Mayor Robert Garcia and a dozen speakers composed of business owners, nonprofit leaders and local workers, and came just days after the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC) released its minimum wage study, commissioned by the city council.
The study, Garcia noted, stated that raising the minimum wage would not necessarily affect all of the city’s residents, citing that 25 percent of the city’s workforce actually lives in Long Beach.
Even though small business owners and nonprofits were not likely to close down or move out, the study did state that businesses and nonprofits indicated a wage increase would force them to hire less workers, raise prices and see a cut in profits. There would, however, be a possibility of increased worker productivity due to a raised wage.
“This is an issue that affects a lot of people,” Garcia told participants. “It affects the quality of life of workers, it also clearly affects small businesses in particular, and their ability to provide services and of course the nonprofit sector.”
During the roundtable, restaurateurs expressed concerns that a possible wage increase would lead to an unlevel playing field when businesses faced competitors outside the city limits. For this reason, many owners believed that a wage increase should only be enforced at the state level.
Restaurant owners also questioned how minimum wage would come into play with tip employees, who can end up making up to $29 an hour, according to Domenico’s Mike Rhodes.
While nonprofit representatives spoke of their support for a wage increase, they said the lack of certainty in regard to grant funding would jeopardize the organization's operations.
“We have a very limited reimbursement from the state [for participating children]” said Sarah Soriano, the executive director of Young Horizons Child Development Center. “If you do the math on that, and we have almost 100 employees, this minimum wage increase would devastate us.”
The roundtable’s only two workers—both vocal in the Raise the Wage ongoing campaign—focused mostly on the need for a law that can help fight wage theft.
For Anthony Vallecillo, a warehouse worker for Cal Cartage, that theft comes in the form of misclassification. He said he has worked for the company through a staffing agency for about five years and many times he must buy his own equipment, leaving little change.
“We are living check to check, day by day, thinking what are we going to eat, how are we going to survive next week?” Vallecillo said.
The next hearing will take place at 4:00PM on Friday, November 20, at the Economic Development and Finance Committee meeting (Bay Shore Library, 195 Bay Shore Avenue).
The last meeting will take place November 24, after which the council and the Economic Development Commission will begin deliberations and begin taking public comment officially, Garcia said. Some type of recommendation or action is expected to take place in the next couple of months, he said.