At a Nov. 12 community meeting to discuss the proposed minimum wage increase in Santa Monica attendees expressed concerns over how the increase will affect everything from service charges to hotel employee wages.

The packed meeting was led by economic development manager for the City of Santa Monica, Jason Harris. The purpose for the meeting, as Harris put it, was to discuss outstanding issues that City Council is considering as the proposed minimum wage increase comes before them including service charges, seasonal work exception, paid leave, education and enforcement, hotel wage.

Harris explained that all the feedback that was given that night would be used when drafting a staff report to be given to council before they meet to discuss the matter in January.

Harris began the meeting with a short presentation explaining that, based on the City of Los Angeles’ ordinance, the proposed increase is to start July 1, 2016 with annual increases of $10.50 in 2016, $12 in 2017, $13.25 in 2018, $14.25 in 2019 and $15 in 2020.

“Overall council’s intent and direction is to generally mirror city of Los Angeles minimum wage and City of Los Angeles hotel minimum wage,” Harris said.

Harris said for profits and nonprofits with 25 or fewer employees will be able to delay the increase for one year, reaching $15 by 2021, and nonprofits that help the disadvantaged or receive most of their funding from government grants can apply for an extra year delay. Harris also said that indexing to inflation (20-year rolling average) will begin in 2022.

The meeting then turned into breakout sessions where attendees could go to feedback sheets posted throughout the room to write comments and questions about each of the outstanding issues.

Once the meeting reached public comment two topics came to the front of the discussion: service charges and the wages of hotel workers.

Several attendees stated that most people don’t understand what a service charge goes toward and that there needs to be more transparency in what establishments, mainly restaurants, use that service charge for. Attendees also voiced that if the service charge is not being used as a tip they need to know what exactly it is being used for. Some restaurateurs were in attendance and said they backed the minimum wage increase; but need to use service charges to cover the costs of paying, not only the increased wages, but also the taxes that go along with that wage; not toward tips for their employees.

On the matter of hotel workers’ wages several of those in the hospitality industry weighed in, saying that workers in Santa Monica work as hard, if not harder, than those in Los Angeles and deserve to make the same minimum wage. One attendee had done research to show that most young workers in the hospitality industry use part of their paychecks to support their families and have to deal with erratic schedules based around their employers needs and therefore should be earning more.

Some attendees also discussed why the minimum wage increase is necessary, or unnecessary. One attended said that People can’t live and support a family, let alone themselves, in Santa Monica on a minimum wage salary. But a small business owner stated that the minimum wage was never created to support a family and wasn’t meant for those pursuing a career; also stating that if an employee starts at a higher salary how do you reward a good employee when you can’t afford to give them a raise?

At the end of the meeting Harris reiterated that the opinions voiced that night would be used when drafting the staff report to be sent to council before their meeting in January, at which time they will discuss the minimum wage increase.

jennifer@www.smdp.com