How wage law f its the road

Busi­nesses must ad­just pay for those work­ers who split time in­side and out­side L.A.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Emily Alpert Reyes

Yet an­other wrin­kle has emerged as Los An­ge­les law­mak­ers seek to boost the min­i­mum wage: how busi­nesses will pay em­ploy­ees who split their time in­side and out­side the city lim­its.

The new rules, slated to be ap­proved by the City Coun­cil on Wed­nes­day, would grad­u­ally in­crease pay to at least $15 an hour for any em­ployee who spends at least two hours weekly work­ing in Los An­ge­les.

That means that some busi­nesses based in Bur­bank, Glen­dale, Tor­rance or other nearby cities will be re­quired to raise wages for the hours their em­ploy­ees spend in L.A. — and that some L.A. em­ploy­ers won’t have to pay the higher wages when their work­ers are toiling out­side city lim­its.

The legal lan­guage mir­rors word­ing used in other Cal­i­for­nia cities that have in­creased wages, such as San Fran­cisco and Oak­land. Yet some city lead­ers are still ques­tion­ing how it would work. The Los An­ge­les County Busi­ness Fed­er­a­tion, also known as BizFed, warned it could be con­fus­ing and dif­fi­cult to track.

“I don’t think any­one was pre­pared for this,” BizFed pol­icy manager Dus­tan Bat­ton said. “It could ex­tend the

min­i­mum wage to a plethora of busi­nesses out­side of L.A.”

Oth­ers, in­clud­ing em­ploy­ment at­tor­ney Steve Nut­ter, said the word­ing would pre­vent com­pa­nies that send em­ploy­ees to L.A. jobs — such as con­struc­tion con­trac­tors — from avoid­ing the wage by set­ting up their of­fices out­side city lim­its. If they could, “that would be un­fair to the busi­nesses in L.A.,” Nut­ter ar­gued.

Among the work­ers who stand to ben­e­fit is Leke­cia Dukes, a 40-year-old mother who said she earns $9 an hour as a care­giver.

Her em­ployer, a cor­po­ra­tion with fran­chises world­wide, sends her to as­sist el­derly clients from Re­dondo Beach to Mar Vista. Dukes said she earns roughly $600 to $700 a month work­ing part time, log­ging most of her hours in Los An­ge­les. Her work can in­clude bathing and dress­ing se­niors, driv­ing them to er­rands and med­i­cal ap­point­ments, and do­ing house­hold chores. She drives her own car from job to job, grab­bing cheap meals from McDon­ald’s as she criss­crosses the South Bay.

Her sit­u­a­tion “is a good ex­am­ple of why work done in the city of L.A. should be sub­ject to the pol­icy,” said Peter Kuhns, L.A. direc­tor of the Al­liance of Cal­i­for­ni­ans for Com­mu­nity Em­pow­er­ment, a com­mu­nity or­ga­niz­ing group to which Dukes be­longs. “Her em­ployer is based out­side the city lim­its, but most of the work she does is in­side it.”

Dukes has two chil­dren — a 9-year-old son and an adult daugh­ter with schizophre­nia — and scrapes by with food stamps, canned food given away at a com­mu­nity cen­ter and ex­tra cash from re­cy­cled cans and jars. When her son needed a re­tainer, Dukes begged her den­tist for a dis­count and sold her com­puter to pay for it.

If her late par­ents hadn’t left her their South L.A. house, she said, “I would prob­a­bly be home­less.”

But ex­tend­ing higher wages to any­one who works a few hours weekly in Los An­ge­les has also gen­er­ated ques­tions and con­cerns, in­clud­ing from law­mak­ers firmly be­hind the wage in­crease.

At a Fri­day hear­ing, Coun­cil­man Paul Kreko­rian ques­tioned whether a Glen- dale busi­ness that does de­liv­er­ies in Ven­tura County would have to pay its driver higher wages for time spent pass­ing through L.A.’s San Fer­nando Val­ley. Coun­cil­man Paul Koretz added that he was wor­ried that an L.A. em­ployer could duck the wage re­quire­ments when­ever its work­ers went out­side L.A.

“It never oc­curred to me that if you were an L.A. com­pany and your em­ployee spent 90% of their time in L.A., they’d only be paid the L.A. min­i­mum wage 90% of the time,” Koretz lsaid.

At the hear­ing, Kreko­rian asked how the city would be able to en­force such a rule and ques­tioned whether it would be vul­ner­a­ble to a legal chal­lenge. City lawyers as­sured coun­cil mem­bers that the word­ing would stand up in court, call­ing it “very stan­dard.” Still, the law­mak­ers in­sisted that city at­tor­neys re­port back with more in­for­ma­tion.

Other cities where min­i­mum wage rules hinge on how many hours an em­ployee works within city lim­its have spelled out more de­tails: Seat­tle said that an em­ployee trav­el­ing through Seat­tle from one city to an­other was not cov­ered by the rules if they did not make “em­ploy­ment-re­lated or com­mer­cial stops” be­sides re­fu­el­ing or per­sonal meals, for in­stance. Busi­ness groups op­posed to the L.A. wage in­crease said track­ing hours could be­come a night­mare. If a worker is driv­ing from job to job, “do you put GPS on their car and start count­ing the minute they cross the bor­der?” asked Ruben Gon­za­lez, se­nior vice pres­i­dent of the Los An­ge­les Area Cham­ber of Com­merce. “The hall­mark of a bad law is that it’s very dif­fi­cult to im­ple­ment.”

Stu­art Wald­man, pres­i­dent of the Val­ley In­dus­try & Com­merce Assn., said the rules could make it harder for some re­tail and gro­cery chains to sched­ule work­ers for shifts at mul­ti­ple stores so that they get enough hours to qual­ify for benefits. The Cal­i­for­nia Gro­cers Assn. said in a state­ment that it was “seek­ing so­lu­tions to the unique sched­ul­ing chal­lenges this or­di­nance will cre­ate.”

Nut­ter was skep­ti­cal that most em­ploy­ers would find it hard to track the hours their work­ers spend in­side and out­side L.A., point­ing out that some com­pa­nies al­ready have to do sim­i­lar book­keep­ing for jobs at Los An­ge­les In­ter­na­tional Air­port, where a city or­di­nance im­posed pay re­quire­ments.

But even some ex­perts who con­sider the rule rea­son­able said it could be dif­fi­cult for L.A. to en­force. The word­ing in­di­cates “they’re tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for the eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity hap­pen­ing in their city,” said Chris Tilly, direc­tor of the UCLA In­sti­tute for Re­search on La­bor and Em­ploy­ment. But “to mon­i­tor and en­force this kind of pro­vi­sion is go­ing to be chal­leng­ing at best.”

Wage en­force­ment is al­ready be­ing eyed with con­cern: L.A. is plan­ning to ini­tially hire five staffers to in­ves­ti­gate claims of un­der­pay­ment city­wide, far fewer than were rec­om­mended by a study com­mis­sioned by the city.

Tilly said the city would prob­a­bly tar­get prom­i­nent com­pa­nies such as FedEx rather than try to track down “the many, many small com­pa­nies for whom a tiny frac­tion of their work­force sets foot in L.A.”

Christina House For The Times

LEKE­CIA DUKES is a sin­gle mother who earns $9 an hour as a care­giver. Her em­ployer is based out­side L.A., but most of the work she does is in­side the city — qual­i­fy­ing her for the pro­posed wage in­crease to $15 an hour.

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