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Council Makes Tweaks to Santa Monica Minimum Wage Law
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Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica


By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

April 29, 2016 -- Three months after adopting an ordinance requiring most people working in Santa Monica to be paid at least $15 per hour by 2020, the City Council voted for amendments on Tuesday to tweak the law.

With these amendments, mostly minor changes, the council finalized what Councilmember Kevin McKeown called “the best and most complete minimum wage ordinance in the country.”

“This is a proud night for Santa Monica,” he said. “It’s proud for our values. It’s proud for our process.”

The rising of the minimum wage will be done in phases, beginning July 1 when it will go to $10.25.

Annual increases will follow to $12, $13.25 and $14.25--until it reaches $15 in 2020 for most businesses with 26 employees or more.

Smaller businesses will have to follow this same pattern, but a year behind each time, so their employees are earning at least $15 per hour by 2021.

Annual pay increases will continue for both groups of employees after reaching $15 based on a consumer price index (CPI) formula.

“This will have a direct impact on workers’ lives, especially those in the service industry,” said Mayor Tony Vazquez in a statement issued by the City. “Families will have a little more, which offers more of an opportunity to build a strong future.”

Non-unionized hotel workers will begin earning a minimum of $15.37 plus “an inflation measure” per hour by July 1, 2017. Unionized workers are exempt from the law, a feature that has detractors.

The “inflation measure” portion was added on Tuesday so that it matches how hotel workers are being paid in the City of Los Angeles, which also recently passed an ordinance for a $15 minimum wage.

Another change made Tuesday is a phasing in of the requirement for nine paid sick days so that businesses of 26 employees or more do not have to reach that amount until 2018, rather than 2017 as previously instructed.

The tweaks to the ordinance came at the recommendation of a Working Group, composed of members of the business community and labor rights organizations, that began meeting shortly after the council approved the law in January.

Councilmember Gleam Davis said she was pleased people with varying interests were able to work together and reach conclusions.

“I think to do it on such a contentious issue is truly a wonderful reflection on the community as a whole,” Davis said.

City Manager Rick Cole commended Working Group member Paloma Nicholas, who is a Santa Monica High School student. He said this was evidence great future leadership exists in the community.

“And I know that’s why this council feels so strongly about affordable housing,” Cole said. “We want people like Paloma Nicholas to come back and be able to make their career and family [in Santa Monica] and give back to this community.”

Several members of the Working Group addressed the council in favor of the amendments. Other people also spoke favorably of the amendments and the ordinance itself. Only one person spoke in opposition.

The council received a letter from Scott Schoenberger, general manager of KAS Engineering, who opposed the exemptions for union workers.

“This is not fair,” he wrote. “What’s good for all should apply for all. Please don’t exempt special interests.”

Councilmember Pam O’Connor had objected to the ordinance in January for this reason. Saying she supported the concept of the ordinance, she abstained from voting.

“I think the minimum wage being raised needs to apply equally to everyone,” O’Connor said in January.

She voted for the amendments on Tuesday and did not say anything prior to the vote.

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