SACRAMENTO -- A bill to raise the minimum wage in California from the current $8 an hour to $9.25 over the next three years and then to require inflation-adjusted increases every year after passed its first legislative test Wednesday.
Assembly Bill 10 would increase the state's minimum wage for the first time in six years. It passed the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee on a party-line vote, with majority Democrats in support.
"This bill goes to the heart of economic security," testified Mitch Seaman of the California Labor Federation. "For workers, the minimum wage is all that's keeping you from sinking further down as the economy moves on without you."
Eighteen states have a minimum wage above the federal level of $7.25 an hour, led by Washington at $9.19 an hour and then Oregon at $8.95. Ten of those states provide for annual, inflation-adjusted increases.
California's wage ranks fifth-highest in the country and also trails the minimum required in Vermont and Nevada, although employers in Nevada can pay $1 an hour less than their state's $8.25 minimum if they provide health insurance benefits to workers.
The California bill, which now advances to the Assembly floor, would raise the minimum wage to $8.25 in 2014, $8.75 in 2015 and $9.25 in 2016. Each year after, it would go up based on the annual increase in the Consumer Price Index.
The bill is opposed by all the state's major employer organizations, including the California Restaurant Association, Western Growers Association, California Grocers Association and state chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
Another opponent, the California Chamber of Commerce, has placed the bill on its annual "job killer" list, which includes legislation it most aggressively seeks to defeat.
Matt Sutton of the restaurant association said an increase in the minimum wage would benefit only its employees who earn tips, as the added cost would force operators to hold down wages for hourly employees to absorb the mandated increases for tipped workers.
"A minimum-wage increase is going to do nothing but harm my business," testified Joe Thompson, a Sacramento restaurant operator.
Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Salinas, the bill's author, countered that no evidence shows that higher minimum wages have done economic harm in Oregon or in San Francisco, which has a citywide minimum of $10.24.
"There's been no adverse impact to jobs," he said.
Alejo said the state's failure to increase its minimum wage for six years has led communities to begin taking matters into their own hands. In addition to San Francisco, San Jose implemented a $10 per hour minimum wage last month, and Sacramento is considering similar action.
Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles, said that his parents worked "four to five jobs a week" to make ends meet and always impressed upon their children the importance of having a job to avoid becoming a burden on the government.
That philosophy falls apart when a job pays so little that it does not "fulfill its purpose" of allowing workers to get by without government subsidies or programs, he said.
Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo, is the only legislator on the committee who represents any part of Ventura County. He cast one of the two no votes on the measure.