COUNTY DE­LAYS WAGE HIKE AC­TION

Swing vote So­lis asks for time af­ter hear­ing from small busi­nesses.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Abby Sewell, Jean Merl and Sarah Parvini

The cam­paign to push Los An­ge­les County to sig­nif­i­cantly raise the min­i­mum wage suf­fered an un­ex­pected set­back Tues­day, with a key county su­per­vi­sor de­mand­ing a post­pone­ment to ad­dress com­plaints from small- busi­ness own­ers.

La­bor unions and other sup­port­ers had been lob­by­ing the Los An­ge­les County Board of Su­per­vi­sors to fol­low the Los An­ge­les City Coun­cil and boost the min­i­mum wage in un­in­cor­po­rated ar­eas to $ 15 an hour in five years for large busi­nesses and six years for those with fewer than 26 em­ploy­ees. They hoped the county’s sup­port would prompt other lo­cal cities to fol­low suit, leav­ing L. A. less iso­lated with its higher wages.

The swing vote on the plan is Su­per­vi­sor Hilda So­lis, a Demo­crat, union ally and for­mer U. S. Sec­re­tary of La­bor in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. So­lis asked for the de­lay af­ter hear­ing com­plaints from con­stituents. County of­fi­cials and la­bor lead­ers still ex­pect the Board of Su­per­vi­sors to ap­prove the hike.

But So­lis’ hes­i­ta­tion spot­lights the conf lict­ing po­lit­i­cal forces she must bal­ance in ad­dress­ing the is­sue.

She was elected last year with heavy sup­port from unions back­ing the wage in­crease, as well as en­dorse­ments from ma­jor busi­ness groups that have op­posed it. Along with two other Demo­cratic su­per­vi­sors, Sheila Kuehl, who pro­posed the wage in­crease, and Mark Ri­d­ley- Thomas, So­lis makes up a new la­bor- al­lied ma­jor­ity on the f ive- mem­ber board.

But So­lis joined Don

Kn­abe and Michael Antonovich, the two Repub­li­cans on the f ive- mem­ber county board, Tues­day in rais­ing ques­tions about how the in­crease would af­fect busi­nesses, par­tic­u­larly smaller en­ter­prises.

“I care very deeply about what hap­pens to those mom and pop busi­nesses and non­prof­its,” she said.

So­lis’ dis­trict in­cludes un­in­cor­po­rated, county- ad­min­is­tered East Los An­ge­les, a heav­ily Latino com­mu­nity with com­mer­cial cor­ri­dors crowded with restau­rants and shops — busi­nesses where own­ers of­ten have just a few em­ploy­ees and eke by on low in­comes them­selves. Some shop own­ers there have com­plained of ne­glect by the county, and some have joined in at­tempts to break away and form their own city.

If ap­proved, the wage in­crease would ap­ply to the ma­jor­ity of the county’s ge­o­graphic foot­print, and the nearly 400,000 work­ers in un­in­cor­po­rated ar­eas who make up about 10% of the coun­ty­wide work­force. Com­bined with the re­cent city move, half the work­ers in L. A. County would be guar­an­teed at least $ 15 an hour by 2021.

So­lis re­it­er­ated Tues­day she wants to raise the min­i­mum wage. But she said the county lacks ad­e­quate in­for­ma­tion on the ef­fects the cur­rent pro­posal would have on small com­mer­cial en­ter­prises in county- con­trolled ar­eas. She also called for county of­fi­cials to de­velop a broad plan to as­sist busi­nesses tran­si­tion­ing to higher wages, in­clud­ing stream­lin­ing the per­mit­ting process and of­fer­ing train- ing to work­ers.

Jaime Re­gal­ado, a re­tired Cal State Los An­ge­les pro­fes­sor who has watched So­lis’ long ca­reer in public of­fice, said she has al­ways been close to small busi­ness own­ers, as well as la­bor and work­ing- class fam­i­lies, and is prob­a­bly feel­ing “in­tense pres­sure from com­pet­ing in­ter­ests.”

“She is be­ing smart and do­ing her due dili­gence” in seek­ing the de­lay, said Re­gal­ado.

Pro­po­nents of the wage in­crease, in­clud­ing la­bor groups that have been al­lied with So­lis, voiced lit­tle con­cern over the post­pone­ment.

“This is a mo­men­tary de­lay. We look for­ward to work­ing with Su­per­vi­sor Kuehl and the rest of the county su­per­vi­sors to con­tinue a thought­ful process that crafts the best pos­si­ble pol­icy to lift work­ing fam­i­lies out of poverty,” said Rusty Hicks, ex­ec­u­tive sec­re­tary­trea­surer of the Los An­ge­les County Fed­er­a­tion of La­bor and a leader of the Raise the Wage cam­paign.

Los An­ge­les Mayor Eric Garcetti ap­pealed to the county board to fol­low his city’s lead on the min­i­mum wage.

Ri­d­ley- Thomas said he ex­pected the board to move ahead next month, not only on the min­i­mum wage, but on a higher base wage for county con­trac­tors. Kuehl said she was dis­ap­pointed by Tues­day’s de­lay, but didn’t view it as a sig­nif­i­cant set­back.

“A set­back would be if it failed and I had to think about bring­ing it back next year,” she said. “... I think it’s clear that [ So­lis] cares about work­ing peo­ple, as do I.”

Garcetti said county adop­tion of the min­i­mum wage pro­posal would put the Los An­ge­les area “past the tip­ping point.” He pre­dicted other cities would fol­low suit to avoid los­ing the most qual­i­fied work­ers to higher-wage ar­eas.

Some cities, in­clud­ing Santa Mon­ica and West Hol­ly­wood, are al­ready con­sid­er­ing rais­ing the min­i­mum wage. How­ever, larger cities in the county, in­clud­ing Pasadena and Long Beach, have re­mained on the side­lines of the de­bate.

A spokes­woman for Long Beach said the city’s mayor and the City Coun­cil sup­port leg­is­la­tion to in­crease the fed­eral and state min­i­mum wages, but haven’t pro­posed a city- im­posed wage in­crease. A county-com­mis­sioned re­port by the Los An­ge­les Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Corp. re­leased last week found that among 1,000 busi­nesses sur­veyed across the county, none ex­pected to close or move as a re­sult of a higher min­i­mum wage. Most said they would raise prices to off­set higher la­bor costs, and some said they might cut jobs.

The re­port did not break out re­sponses from en­ti­ties in un­in­cor­po­rated ar­eas, as op­posed to those in Los An­ge­les or other cities, and did not an­a­lyze which re­sponses had come from non­prof­its. Antonovich and So­lis crit­i­cized those omis­sions Tues­day.

Ed­die Tor­res, owner of a com­mer­cial sign busi­ness and a board mem­ber with the East Los An­ge­les Cham­ber of Com­merce, said many busi­nesses there won’t be able to pay the higher wage and will have a hard time rais­ing prices, mean­ing they will have to cut back the num­ber of work­ers they em­ploy.

“We don’t see it be­ing ben­e­fi­cial to any­body, be­cause at least the peo­ple who have jobs right now, they have jobs,” he said.

Soo Kim, man­ager of Fash­ion Expo on Whit­tier Boule­vard, said a manda­tory min­i­mum wage hike “isn’t right” be­cause the econ­omy is barely re­cov­er­ing.

“Store own­ers will cut hours,” Kim, 45, said as she or­ga­nized dresses on racks. “Peo­ple will lose jobs be­cause $ 15 is too high…. They should make rents lower, not force the wage higher.”

But David Perl­mut­ter, who em­ploys eight peo­ple in his jew­elry store that sits on a busy swath of Whit­tier Boule­vard, said most of his em­ploy­ees al­ready make about $ 15.

“I think it’s fair to pay for the cost of liv­ing,” he said. “From my stand­point, I think $ 9 or $ 10 per hour is poverty level. Es­pe­cially in Los An­ge­les.”

Su­per­vi­sors will re­visit the min­i­mum wage pro­posal July 21. The county’s pro­posal so far does not ad­dress a se­ries of sticky is­sues that height­ened the con­tro­versy over the city min­i­mum- wage in­crease, in­clud­ing whether to re­quire paid sick days and whether to of­fer union shop em­ploy­ees an ex­emp­tion from the wage re­quire­ments.

Pho­tog r aphs by Mar­cus Yam Los An­ge­les Times

SU­PER­VI­SOR Mark Ri­d­ley- Thomas speaks with Mayor Eric Garcetti at the county board’s meet­ing, at which it dis­cussed a min­i­mum wage in­crease to $ 15.

GIO­VANNI D’EGIDIO tells county su­per­vi­sors his con­cerns about the ef­fects a min­i­mum wage in­crease could have on his busi­ness, Hol­ly­wood Sports.

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