Job wor­ries rise with pay hike

Home­boy In­dus­tries and oth­ers are con­cerned that L.A.’s min­i­mum wage plan will force cuts.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - DAVID ZAHNISER david.zahniser @la­times.com Fol­low @DavidZah­niser for more news from L.A. City Hall.

L.A.’s elected of­fi­cials and their po­lit­i­cal staffs are a fre­quent pres­ence at Home­boy Diner, pick­ing up sand­wiches or hold­ing meet­ings at the cafe that op­er­ates on the sec­ond floor of City Hall.

The eatery, part of Home­boy In­dus­tries’ well­known anti-gang pro­gram, opened four years ago to great fan­fare. At the time, then-Mayor An­to­nio Vil­laraigosa praised the non­profit group for find­ing work for one­time gang mem­bers and for­mer con­victs strug­gling to re-en­ter so­ci­ety.

Th­ese days, Home­boy staffers have been mak­ing their way up to City Hall’s third floor, where coun­cil mem­bers have been de­bat­ing a plan to hike the hourly min­i­mum wage to $15 by 2020. That’s be­cause Home­boy ex­ec­u­tives fear the wage in­crease, which comes up for a full coun­cil vote Wed­nes­day, will force them to scale back the num­ber of peo­ple they em­ploy.

Home­boy has spent months seek­ing re­lief from the law, but only for clients in its so-called tran­si­tional jobs train­ing pro­gram. With­out an ex­emp­tion, the non­profit will need to elim­i­nate 60 of its 170 trainee po­si­tions by the time the wage reaches $15, said Jose Osuna, the group’s direc­tor of em­ploy­ment ser­vices.

“It would be heart­break­ing, be­cause I know a lot of them per­son­ally,” he told The Times. “For a lot of them, we’re the … only or­ga­ni­za­tion that’s able to serve them.”

Seven coun­cil mem­bers signed a pro­posal to grant an 18-month ex­emp­tion for tran­si­tional work­ers em­ployed by Home­boy and sim­i­lar groups. But when the coun­cil voted last month to draft the or­di­nance, the idea was set aside for more study.

Coun­cil­man Cur­ren Price, who heads the com­mit­tee that crafted the wage in­crease, op­poses the ad­di­tional re­lief, say­ing the city al­ready plans to give a oneyear de­lay to non­prof­its with fi­nan­cial hard­ships or spe­cial cir­cum­stances. Price said he’s not con­vinced an ex­tra ex­emp­tion should be given to “a small col­lec­tion of or­ga­ni­za­tions.”

“Philo­soph­i­cally, I do not feel com­fort­able say­ing to tran­si­tional work­ers that, be­cause they have faced chal­lenges in their lives, they de­serve to be paid less than ev­ery other worker in the city,” he said in an email state­ment.

That po­si­tion puts Price in line with Rusty Hicks, who heads the pow­er­ful L.A. County Fed­er­a­tion of La­bor and is a leader of the Raise the Wage Coali­tion, which pressed for a $15 wage. Unions and their po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tees spent more than $800,000 to put Price into of­fice two years ago. For weeks, Hicks has ar­gued against ex­tra ex­cep­tions for Home­boy and other pro­grams that pro­vide both tem­po­rary jobs and so­cial ser­vices, such as classes and coun­sel­ing, to its work­ers.

Hicks com­plained that the 18-month ex­emp­tion, which was pro­posed by Coun­cil­man Gil Cedillo, would cover a tran­si­tional worker’s en­tire train­ing pe­riod. Cedillo, in turn, says Home­boy’s clients should not be con­sid­ered as part of the work­force be­cause they are re­ceiv­ing coun­sel­ing and other ser­vices as they begin to find per­ma­nent em­ploy­ment.

“They’re more akin to stu­dents or trainees,” he said. “So the peo­ple who pro­vide their ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing will have greater ca­pac­ity [to help peo­ple] if we ex­empt their busi­ness model.”

La­bor lead­ers ig­nited a firestorm last week, push­ing for their own ex­emp­tion from the min­i­mum wage hike, one that would ap­ply to union work­places where em­ploy­ees agree to a lower pay scale. Hicks sug­gested he would not have a prob­lem with an ex­emp­tion for Home­boy if its pro­grams had col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing, which union work­places do.

“If those pro­gram par­tic­i­pants had a say in what their wage would be, then that’s a dif­fer­ent con­ver­sa­tion,” he said.

Home­boy is only one group seek­ing the ex­tra help. Chrysalis, which fo­cuses heav­ily on help­ing the home­less re-en­ter the work­force, also wants an ex­emp­tion. So does the L.A. Con­ser­va­tion Corps, which pro­vides tran­si­tional jobs for young adults, par­tic­u­larly those who have strug­gled in school or had run-ins with the law.

Ex­ec­u­tives with the corps warn the $15 wage could force them to cut the num­ber of tran­si­tional job par­tic­i­pants by as much as half, from 400 peo­ple to 200. On Fri­day, work­ers with the corps told coun­cil mem­bers their em­ployer had helped them reach crit­i­cal mile­stones: earn­ing a di­ploma, get­ting a driver’s li­cense, learn­ing how to raise a fam­ily.

“They helped me be a bet­ter par­ent,” said Este­fany Men­dez, 20, of Echo Park. “They are like my whole fam­ily.”

At Home­boy, trainees progress from jan­i­to­rial work to cler­i­cal du­ties to posts in the non­profit’s var­i­ous busi­nesses, such as the cafe, bak­ery or silk screen­ing shop, Osuna said. Though they tackle those jobs, they also re­ceive coun­sel­ing in an ar­ray of ar­eas: par­ent­ing, sub­stance abuse, anger man­age­ment, do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.

Miguel Lugo, 36, said those ser­vices helped him ad­just af­ter years in pri­son.

“I never knew how hard so­ci­ety was go­ing to be,” said Lugo, fight­ing back tears as he ad­dressed the coun­cil. “I never knew how to pay a bill. I never knew how to fill out a job ap­pli­ca­tion.”

Mark Lo­r­anger, pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of Chrysalis, said he ran the num­bers on the pro­posed wage hike and con­cluded the in­creases would add $2 mil­lion to its costs by 2018. He said he would not be able to raise enough ex­tra money from donors or other sources to cover the en­tire ex­pense. “Any way you slice it, it’s a very sub­stan­tial fi­nan­cial hit,” he added.

Chrysalis helped more than 500 clients, many of whom had been out of the work­force for years, find tran­si­tional jobs in 2014. The av­er­age age of a trainee is 42, Lo­r­anger said.

If ap­proved, the wage law would go into ef­fect in 2016. Cedillo re­mains con­fi­dent he will have the votes to en­sure the mea­sure pro­vides re­lief to Home­boy and the other tran­si­tional job groups.

For Cedillo, the ex­emp­tion is about giv­ing a sec­ond chance to some of the most chal­leng­ing cases in so­ci­ety: the chron­i­cally home­less, for­mer con­victs and at-risk youth. “We’re in­te­grat­ing peo­ple into the work­force, and we’re mak­ing them bet­ter hu­man be­ings,” he said. “How do we put a cost on some­thing like that?”

Pho­tog raphs by Brian van der Brug Los An­ge­les Times

WITH­OUT THE ex­emp­tion, Home­boy will need to cut 60 of its 170 trainee posts when the wage reaches $15, said Jose Osuna, direc­tor of em­ploy­ment ser­vices.

RUSTY HICKS, head of the Los An­ge­les County Fed­er­a­tion of La­bor, op­poses ex­empt­ing Home­boy and other non­prof­its from the min­i­mum wage law.

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