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Campaign for minimum wage pushes forward


If the Los Angeles City Council were to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour, it would create 64,000 new jobs, says Rusty Hicks, executive-secretary treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and co-convener of the Raise the Wage Coalition.

The jobs would come about, she said, by virtue of the additional income workers would have to spend. Increasing the wage may result in $9 billion in additional spending, according to the California Budget Project, and $152 million would go to the city. The Economic Policy Institute has also found that for every dollar paid to workers, $1.24 goes into the local economy because of a “multiplier” effect.

Hicks made those comments during a briefing held Friday at the federation’s office to talk about the potential impact on African American workers of a proposal currently before the council to increase the wage to $15.25.

The briefing also discussed the need for workers to earn paid sick days and for stronger enforcement of rules and regulations that protect people from wage theft.

The briefing also comes ahead of a series of public hearings that will be held citywide and the release of reports by labor unions, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and the city on the impact the increase would have.

The public hearings will be held March 17 at 6 p.m. at city hall; March 19 at 6 p.m. at the Museum of Tolerance at UCLA; March 24 at Van Nuys City Hall and March 26 at 6 p.m. in Watts at a location to be determined.

Residents who can not attend the hearings can send letters to their city council member.

African American workers would particularly benefit from the increase in the minimum wage. Blacks make up 9.4 percent or 358,000 of the city’s population but suffer a 21 percent unemployment rate, higher than Latinos and Whites despite representing a smaller proportion of the population.

According to the campaign organizers, 42 percent of Blacks make less than $15 an hour, which is considered the minimum amount an individual needs to earn to cover basic needs living in the city. Additionally 16.7 percent of Black women and 14.3 percent of Black men with full-time jobs are low income and 29 percent live in poverty.

According to the Black Worker Center, a research advocy group, a 2008 survey of nearly 1,800 low-wage workers including 202 African Americans found that 19.9 percent of Black workers had been paid less than the minimum wage ($8) and this was nearly double the minimum wage violation rate for Whites. The study also found that 58.1 percent of African Americans who had worked more than 40 hours in the previous work week had been paid less than the legal requirement of time-and-a-half for overtime work. Additionally, the survey found that 52.8 percent of Black workers had worked “off the clock” (extra time before and/or after their regular shift without compensation in the previous work week.

Other problems that must be addressed by the campaign, the panel concluded, include employers laying off workers just before the six month time-frame of when a company would become responsible for paying unemployment.

Raise the Wage research also notes that African Americans were twice as likely to earn less than the current minimum wage.

Charisse Bremond Weaver, president and CEO of the Brotherhood Crusade, also spoke at the briefing, and said that her nonprofit and other similar organizations provide the majority of jobs in the South Los Angeles region, and they too must pay their workers a “livable wage” such as the $15 a hour proposed.

Beyond fighting to raise the minimum wage, the campaign is coupling a number of other concerns with the effort. These include enforcing work place laws around issues such as wage theft and discrimination; and enabling workers to earn paid sick days.

The Raise the Wage campaign reports that when African Americans are employed, they suffer from various wage theft violations: 20 percent reported minimum wage theft violations with nearly 60 percent reporting weekly overtime wage violations; 50 percent reporting off-the-clock violations and more than 70 percent reporting meal break violations.

In terms of sick leave, Hicks says labor is seeking to have a provision included in the proposal before the city council that workers could earn one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked.

Finally, the briefing panelists said they were aware of the need for African Americans to actually get access to the jobs, as demonstrated by the 21 percent unemployment rate. Their answer to achieve this was, in part, to make sure that anti-discrimination enforcement laws are part of any proposal passed.

When the City Council takes up the proposed legislation depends on when the president presents it to the full body, but the campaign organizers project it will happen sometime between April and July 1, before the new council is sworn in.