Los Angeles on Tuesday became the biggest U.S. city to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Following a hot debate, the city council voted 14 to 1 to approve a plan to gradually increase the required wage to $15 an hour by July 2020. The current $9-an-hour minimum wage was already slated to increase to $10 in January.
The pay bump will affect about 567,000 workers in the city.
“This is a game changer,” Tsedeye Gebreselassie, a senior staff attorney at the wage advocacy group National Employment Law Project, told The Huffington Post minutes after the vote. “L.A. is such a huge city, and it’ll have a national impact on the normalization of $15 as the minimum wage.”
The move comes less than a year after the city council voted to raise hourly pay to $15.37 for nearly 10,000 hotel workers.
The debate over the new minimum wage divided the city. Business groups, including the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, warned that the increase would hurt small companies and lead to layoffs.
“A lot of businesses are going to struggle,” Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, told HuffPost minutes after the vote. “There’s a lot of employees are going to get raises, but there’s also some employees that are going to lose their jobs.”
Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest city, joins other West Coast cities, including Seattle and San Francisco, which raised their hourly wages to $15 following waves of protests across the country. Meanwhile, the federal minimum wage has stagnated at a paltry $7.25 an hour for the last four years, despite calls to raise it from President Barack Obama.
“You can see over the course of two years, there’s an evolution of position on what a reasonable minimum wage is,” John Schmitt, research director at the liberal-leaning nonprofit Washington Center for Equitable Growth, told The Huffington Post ahead of the vote. “There’s political activity taking place at city and state level, and it’s moved the national debate.”
The city-by-city approach represents one of a two-pronged strategy by activists to increase minimum wages across the country. The second, centered around the wage activism group Fight for $15, has seen mass demonstrations against fast-food companies, which are some of the largest employers of minimum-wage workers.
“It’s highlighted for the American public that raising wages isn’t just about helping workers and making sure people who are struggling to have enough to get by,” Gebreselassie said. “It’s to address income inequality and have truly meaningful economic recovery.”
“People like me, who work hard for multibillion-dollar corporations like McDonald’s, should not have to rely on food stamps to survive,” Albina Ardon, a 29-year-old mother of two who works at a McDonald’s in Los Angeles, said in a statement sent by a Fight for $15 spokeswoman. “My life would be completely different if I were paid $14 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 wage hike will face one final council vote later this year after City Attorney Mike Feuer drafts a plan to implement the new base pay.