In a major win for the movement to boost wages for low-paid workers, Los Angeles voted Tuesday to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour.
The nation’s second-largest city joins Seattle, San Francisco, and Oakland, among others, in going to the $15-per-hour level being demanded by an increasingly confident labor-backed low-wage worker campaign.
“People like me, who work hard for multibillion-dollar corporations like McDonald’s, should not have to rely on food stamps to survive,” said Albina Ardon, a McDonald’s worker from Los Angeles and a member of the Fight for 15 campaign, which is backed by the powerful Service Employees International Union. “My life would be completely different if I were paid $15 an hour. I could afford groceries without needing food stamps, my family could stop sharing our apartment with renters for extra money, and I’d be able to provide my daughters with some security.”
The raise, which was approved by a 14-1 vote of the city council, will be phased in over several years and will reach $15 for large businesses by 2020, and for smaller businesses and some non-profits a year later.
A recent study by economists at the University of California, Berkeley, found that over 600,000 L.A. workers — over 40% of the city’s workforce — would benefit from raising the minimum wage to $15.25 per hour.
The move comes a month after tens of thousands of low-wage workers from the fast-food, retail, construction, and other industries gathered in cities across the country in a major show of strength. And it could put pressure on other southern California cities to follow suit, potentially transforming much of the economy of the nation’s largest and most prominent state.
The Los Angeles victory comes on the heels of several others. Earlier this month, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a wage board to recommend pay increases for hundreds of thousands of fast-food workers in his state. And the White House recently endorsed a Democratic proposal to implement a $12 per hour federal minimum wage. Hillary Clinton, too, has expressed support for a raise.
Critics say increases in the minimum wage can backfire by leading employers to cut low wage jobs, but economic studies of the question paint a mixed picture. Even pro-labor economists, however, concede that there aren’t reliable studies about the effects of going up to $15 an hour—a level which only a few years ago was considered politically unfeasible.
“[T]he L.A. City Council’s endorsement of $15 is further proof that what seemed an unrealistic economic aspiration only two years ago is mainstream economic reality today,” said Christine Owens, the president of the National Employment Law Project, which advocates for a higher minimum wage.