As the City of Long Beach continues consideration of a minimum wage increase, community members, business owners, low-wage workers and representatives from non-profit organizations on Tuesday, Nov. 17, gathered in the city to discuss the benefits and disadvantages of such a raise.
“This is an issue that affects a lot of people,” Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia said at Tuesday’s round table discussion at Admiral Kidd Park, the fourth of six meetings the City Council has set to provide community members an opportunity to voice their opinions. “It clearly affects workers, it affects the quality of life of workers, it also clearly affects small businesses in particular and their ability to provide services, and of course the non-profit sector, youth programs, a variety of issues that we’ve all talked about.”
Many round table participants weren’t entirely against the idea of boosting the minimum wage in Long Beach, although a number agreed the issue should be decided by the state so as to allow for a level playing field. Business owners and non-profit representatives also expressed concerns about how their entities would cope with a mandatory increase, and that paying workers $15 per hour by 2020 (as it has been proposed in Los Angeles) would be too much too fast.
At Aquarium of the Pacific, vice president of finance and chief financial officer Anthony Brown said all employees are paid above minimum wage and that the non-profit is not opposed to paying them their fair share. However, paying workers $15 by 2020, as is scheduled to happen in Los Angeles, would have a $3 million impact on the organization.
“What we’re challenged with is how do we make that model work for a non-profit. Just penciling out solutions, obviously we would have to look at price increases, we’d have to look at possible attrition, we’d have to look at technology,” Brown said.
The Filipino Migrant Center (FMC), a non-profit that aims to mobilize the low-income and working-class Filipino community in Southern California, is another entity that has voiced support for raising wages to $15 per hour.
“[This] would really benefit thousands of Filipinos,” Alex Montances, campaign coordinator at FMC, told the Asian Journal. “We shouldn’t be working against our kababayans. We should be working with them and we need to make sure that everyone has a chance to live a dignified life and that every family can thrive. Thats the Pilipino way. That’s the Long Beach way.”
With a number of Filipinos working as caregivers, in restaurants, in factories and in hotels – many of whom experience wage theft – another issue of concern is ensuring they receive proper wages.
“We’ve seen a lot of big issues with wage theft in the caregiving industry where a lot of Filipino caregivers and other folks are actually not getting paid overtime, are not being given breaks, so we really need to raise and enforce the wage,” he told round table participants during the public comment period on Tuesday.
Two low-wage workers on the panel expressed similar worries.
Anthony Vallecillo, a warehouse worker at Cal Cartage, said he has often purchased equipment for his job with his own money. Francisco Abdul Estin, a worker at the Westin Long Beach Hotel, said he often has to work through his 10-minute breaks, as nobody else is available to do his job during those breaks.
For restauranteur panelists, the idea of counting tips toward income was brought up. Mike Rhodes, owner of Domenico’s Pizza restaurant, said tips are taxed but not considered income. He added that his serving staff makes an average of $29 per hour.
The impact on seniors with in-home care, as well as senior care facilities, was also raised during the discussion, with concerns that costlier, unaffordable labor could force seniors into institutions in which they do not wish to stay.
There have so far been no proposals made regarding the minimum wage in Long Beach, but the Economic Development Commission is expected to provide recommendations to the Council, Garcia said, but he highlighted some findings in the report released by the Long Beach Economic Development Council including:
• The vast majority of individuals earning minimum wage are not teenagers and are working full time
• Most Long Beach residents work outside the city, so raising the minimum wage doesn’t necessarily affect those within the city
• Many Long Beach residents work in Los Angeles
• If the minimum wage is raised to $12 per hour by 2017, approximately 33,000 workers could benefit; if it hits $15 per hour by 2020, about 46,000 workers are estimated to earn an additional $5,000 compared to their current income
• In a worst case scenario, approximately 14,000 workers could be at risk of a negative impact, including reduced job hours and job substitution, if the minimum wage increases
• Not too many businesses said they would close down or move out of Long Beach if the minimum wage rises. Instead, they would look into hiring fewer workers, raising prices, see cuts in profits and expect increased productivity from employees
The fifth and sixth sessions for community input on the matter were scheduled for Friday, Nov. 20, at the Economic Development and Finance Committee meeting, and Tuesday, Nov. 24, during the Economic Development Commission meeting at Long Beach City Council Chambers.
Separately, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 on Tuesday, Nov. 17, to approve a motion to establish a wage enforcement bureau for the minimum wage in unincorporated LA County. This makes the county the largest in the United States to have such a bureau.