City Council has approved a minimum wage ordinance that will raise wages to at least $15 an hour by 2020.

The Santa Monica rules mirror those passed by Los Angeles. Wages will increase to $15 by 2020 with small increases occurring annually starting this year. Some small businesses and non-profits will have an extended timeline as would hotels that can show compliance would cause staff reductions or hours to be cut. The rules include a hotel minimum wage that would apply to non-union hotels raising wages to $15.37 by 2017.

Local rules deviate from the regional model in several ways. Most significantly, Santa Monica has allowed unions to negotiate for other benefits in lieu of the minimum wage. Known as supersession, the rule allows unions to secure other benefits, such as additional time off, under a collective bargaining agreement. Local unions supported the rules but supersession has been criticized for creating an unfair system that benefits unions by providing an additional tool to pressure non-union businesses to unionize.

Santa Monica also included a paid sick-leave provision and rules that allow first time workers to be paid 85 percent of the minimum wage for 480 hours or up to six months as a means of facilitating seasonal employment.

During two hours of public comment, speakers voiced differing opinions on aspects of the law. Many speakers praised the rules saying it was an important step towards a better life for low wage workers. Some of those who supported the efforts said they’d like to see the wage increase even more to account for the area’s high cost of living.

Some wanted the rules for hotel workers accelerated to match Los Angeles, restaurant owners and workers had concerns over provisions regulating service charges, some businesses wanted additional revisions to the sick leave provisions and several students opposed the seasonal rules arguing the deserve, and in some cases, need equal pay.

Councilman Kevin McKeown said the law might need some minor improvements but was passionate in his support for the measure.

“With great pride in the work that our city staff has done, our local businesses, our local workers and the unions that represent them and very many members of our community that have supported this for many years and are finally going to get to see it come to fruition tonight, I move this minimum wage law,” he said.

In addition to passing the rules, Council established a working group that will continue discussion of several topics including service charges, seasonal workers, sick days, employee protections, definitions of terms and eventual unification of Santa Monica’s different wage schedules.

McKeown said he wanted to pass the recommended rules and allow for future revisions to respect the work that had been put into the process over the past year.

“What we have before us is something that multiple constituencies in our community have been able to participate in in and buy into,” he said.

City Manager Rick Cole praised the work the community had put into the rules and strongly criticized a last minute campaign that had attempted to undermine the union exemption. Cole called the tactics “thuggish” and said the city had been targeted by anti-union lobbyists with no connection to the actual residents of Santa Monica.

The rules passed with six councilmembers voting “yes” and Councilwoman O’Connor abstaining. O’Connor said she strongly supported workers rights and a $15/hour wage but said she did not support exemptions from the rules. In her explanation, O’Connor criticized Cole and other councilmembers for what she described as demonizing individuals that disagreed with the council’s position.

“I believe the city manager could have made the comments, could have made the points, very strongly that there’s an outside group with specific motives that are trying to influence Santa Monicans but without the highly charged rhetoric,” she said.

“I also have some concerns, frankly what I’m seeing is a growing tendency among some councilmembers to challenge speakers who don’t agree with them. … I don’t think that’s healthy for real civic debate.”

She said there is a difference of opinion about the minimum wage rules and there are valid reasons to oppose the union exemption. O’Connor said the minimum wage discussion wouldn’t solve the greater economic problems facing low-income workers.
“The minimum wage is not going to solve the problems of income inequality and the minimum wage is not going to solve our problems of poverty,” she said. “Yes it will help low income workers but what we need to do, we need to build a strong economy. We have to do that so we can raise the incomes. We do that how? We do that by educating people we do that by supporting industries and businesses that create jobs that are middle class good paying jobs.”

The statewide minimum wage is $10 per hour.

editor@www.smdp.com