Wednesday, December 1, 2021

West Hollywood Raises Minimum Wage For Some Workers To $ 17.64 An Hour

A bold but polarizing move, the West Hollywood City Council unanimously approved a minimum wage hike that will increase hourly wages in hotels, restaurants and other businesses in January.

The decision, which came at the end of the meeting, which began in the early hours of Thursday morning, will boost the income of some workers to $ 17.64 an hour, the highest in the country.

The hike was seen by many as a meaningful step for low-wage workers, who bore most of the brunt of the pandemic and who, in some industries, have fallen prey to increasingly disgruntled customers who tip less.

The decision is “life-changing,” said Sandra Pelleser, a single Guatemalan mother who has struggled for 16 years to make ends meet as a chef at local hotels.

“This will not only support me and hotel workers across the city, but it will also help all West Hollywood workers get better wages,” said Pelleser, who lost her job during the pandemic and is looking for a new position. …

But others have expressed concern that the increase will harm businesses already hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brett Lutteri, owner of Den Restaurant and Bar on Sunset Boulevard, said he is in general in favor of raising the minimum wage. But he worried that rapid wage increases would force businesses to respond by raising prices, cutting services, cutting working hours, or shutting down for good.

“This is a flawed policy and will do more harm than good,” Lutteri said. “The biggest threat to the local economy in West Hollywood is this rapid rise in wages of this magnitude.”

The new salaries will take effect in 2022 and will be broken down into categories including hotels, large business and small business.

A large business is defined as having 50 or more employees, while a small business has 49 or fewer employees.

Starting January 1, hotel workers will receive $ 17.64 an hour, on par with Los Angeles and Santa Monica, which introduced the rate in July.

That number surpasses Emeryville, California, which currently has the highest minimum wage in the country at $ 17.13.

January wages will also rise to $ 15.50 for large business workers and $ 15 for small business workers. These groups will gradually increase every six months, bringing them to $ 17.50 and $ 17, respectively, by January 2023.

According to Sepi Schein, deputy mayor of West Hollywood, the goal is to have all groups on the same level by July 2023. This rate should be around $ 18.77 per hour, pegged to the CPI.

“There is such a strong income inequality in the United States, and I hope that what we did last night will make a good contribution to it,” Shine said on Thursday. “This is an excellent first step towards ensuring that workers are paid a fair share, appreciated and respected.”

The new West Hollywood ordinance will also include at least 96 hours of annual paid sick leave, vacation and personal leave – which Schein said was “huge” for minimum-wage workers.

The current minimum wage in West Hollywood ranges from $ 13 to $ 14 an hour, depending on the size of the business.

The new wage will be higher than the California wage, which rises to $ 14 an hour for employers with 26 or more employees in January – the highest state minimum wage in the country. It’s also well above the $ 7.25 federal minimum wage, which has remained unchanged since 2009.

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Dozens of people gathered at a city council meeting on Wednesday to weigh everything.

Former Real Housewives of Beverly Hills contestant Lisa Vanderpump, who owns several restaurants in the area, said many businesses would find the change “unsustainable.”

Walter Schild, who described himself as the owner of a “mid-size restaurant serving only dinner,” said the pay increase would increase his business’s costs by nearly $ 400,000, and “we will not survive on that. “

Schild noted that West Hollywood businesses compete with businesses in neighboring Los Angeles and Beverly Hills. According to him, the presence of significantly higher wages than in institutions “across the road” will put them at a disadvantage.

However, others strongly supported the measure, with some insisting that current wages were unlivable.

The council documents pointed to the MIT poverty calculator, which found that the corresponding cost of living for a single person with no children in Los Angeles County was $ 19.35 an hour.

“I call it oozing pain,” said Drew Staten, a 15-year-old waiter at Joey’s Cafe on Santa Monica Boulevard who earns the minimum wage plus a tip. “If your business is not sustainable without the exploitation of people, then something is wrong.”

On Thursday, from behind a cafe counter, Staten said that even $ 15 an hour – about $ 31,200 a year – is not enough to survive in West Hollywood or nearly anywhere else in Los Angeles. …

“I think it’s great,” he said of the pay rise, “but it’s still so expensive to live here. How do they expect us to live? “

The ordinance includes waiver of requirements for employers that demonstrate that compliance with the requirements will result in a halt or significant reduction in their workforce. If a waiver is granted, these employers will be able to pay the state minimum wage for a maximum of one year.

Not all business owners were against it. Jake Mason, owner of WeHo Dodgeball, said he strongly supports the promotion. He said he was already paying his workers more than the minimum wage and that he would cut wages if necessary.

“Sometimes we, as business owners, have to take a hit to make sure we’re doing the right thing,” he said.

One of the strongest advocates for growth in West Hollywood was Unite Here Local 11, a union that represents over 32,000 workers in hotels, restaurants and other businesses in Southern California and Arizona.

During the meeting, councilor John D’Amico noted that the property values ​​of many commercial property owners in West Hollywood have risen more than 500% over the past 20 years, while wages have largely not been sustained.

D’Amico said in a phone call on Thursday that he understands the concerns of business owners, especially during the pandemic, but sees the city as a leader to be followed by others.

“Yes, people are in some shock from COVID, but we cannot go back to where we were,” D’Amico said. “We need a new perspective on all sorts of things, and for me, one of those things finally breaks the cycle of thinking about workers last.”

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