West Hollywood OKs the highest minimum wage in the country for some workers: $ 17.64 per hour

In a bold but polarizing move, the West Hollywood City Council unanimously approved an increase in the minimum wage that will increase the wages of hourly employees in hotels, restaurants and other businesses as early as January.

The decision, which came at the end of a meeting that ran out in the early hours of Thursday morning, will bring some of the area’s workers to $ 17.64 an hour, the highest in the country.

For the record:

13:54 5 November 2021An earlier version of this article reported that California’s minimum wage will rise to $ 14 an hour in January for employers with 26 or more employees. The increase in January is to $ 15 per hour.

Many celebrated the increase as a meaningful step for low-wage workers – who bore much of the bulk of the pandemic, and who in some industries have been exposed to increasingly deteriorating customers who pay less.

The decision is “life-changing,” said Sandra Pellecer, a single mother from Guatemala who often struggled to make ends meet in 16 years as a chef at hotels in the area.

“Not only will it support me and hotel workers throughout the city, but it will also help all workers throughout West Hollywood earn a better wage,” said Pellecer, who lost his job during the pandemic and is looking for a new position.

But others expressed concern that the increase would paralyze companies already affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brett Latteri, owner of the Den restaurant and bar on Sunset Boulevard, said he is generally in favor of raising the minimum wage. But he was worried that a rapid wage increase would force companies to respond by raising prices, reducing service, cutting opening hours or closing forever.

Server Drew Staten, right, chats with a customer at Joey's Cafe on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood.

Server Drew Staten, right, chats with a customer at Joey’s Cafe on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. The state has been working at Joey’s Cafe for 15 years and is very grateful that he is finally getting a raise because of the increase in the minimum wage in West Hollywood.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

“It’s a flawed policy, and it will do more harm than good,” Latteri said. “The biggest single threat to the local economy in West Hollywood is a pay rise of this magnitude so fast.”

The new salaries will enter into force in 2022 and will be divided into categories, including hotels, large companies and small businesses.

Large companies are defined as having 50 or more employees, while small companies have 49 or fewer.

From January 1, hotel workers will receive $ 17.64 per hour, bringing them in line with Los Angeles and Santa Monica, which implemented the rate in July.

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

Wages in January will also rise to $ 15.50 for large-scale workers and $ 15 for small-scale workers. These groups will see incremental increases every six months, bringing them to $ 17.50 and $ 17 in January 2023, respectively.

The goal is for all groups to have the same speed by July 2023, said Sepi Shyne, West Hollywood’s mayoral program. That rate should be around $ 18.77 per hour, key to the consumer price index.

A person on a bicycle rides along Santa Monica Blvd.  in West Hollywood at sunset.

A person on a bicycle rides along Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood at sunset.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

“There’s so much income inequality in the United States, and I hope what we did last night puts a good dent in it,” Shyne said Thursday. “It’s a wonderful first step in ensuring that workers get a fair share and are valued and respected.”

West Hollywood’s new regulation will also cover at least 96 hours of annual paid sickness, vacation and personal leave – something Shyne said was “huge” for minimum wage workers.

West Hollywood’s current minimum wage fluctuates between $ 13 and $ 14 per hour, depending on the size of the company.

The new wage will be higher than California’s state wage, which will rise to $ 15 an hour for employers with 26 or more employees in January – the highest nationwide minimum wage in the country. It is also far higher than the federal minimum wage of $ 7.25 per hour, which has been stagnant since 2009.

Dozens of people called for the city council meeting on Wednesday to take a stand.

Former “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” cast 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 “medium-sized restaurant for dinner only” in the area, said the pay rise would create nearly $ 400,000 in increased costs for his business, and “we can not survive on that.”

Schild noted that West Hollywood companies compete with those in neighboring Los Angeles and Beverly Hills. Having significantly higher wages than places “across the street” would put them at a disadvantage, he said.

Still others strongly supported the measure, and some insisted that current wages are untenable.

Council documents pointed to one live-wage calculator from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who found that the appropriate living wage for a single person without children in LA County would be $ 19.35 per hour.

“I call it trickle-down pain,” said Drew Staten, a 15-year-old server at Joey’s Cafe on Santa Monica Boulevard who makes minimum wage plus gratuity. “If your business is not sustainable without exploiting people, then something is wrong.”

From behind the cafe’s counter Thursday, the state said that even $ 15 an hour – about $ 31,200 a year – was not enough to survive in West Hollywood, or pretty much anywhere else in LA. He is doing well thanks to low-income housing, he said.

“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 executive order contains a dispensation for employers, which shows that compliance would force a closure or significant reduction in their workforce. If the exemption is granted, these employers will be able to pay the state’s minimum wage for a maximum of one year.

Not all business owners were against. Jake Mason, owner of WeHo Dodgeball, said he strongly supported the increase. He said he already pays his workers more than the minimum wage and that if necessary he would go down in wages.

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

One of the most vocal advocates for the rise in West Hollywood was Unite Here Local 11, a union representing more than 32,000 workers in hotels, restaurants and other businesses in Southern California and Arizona.

During the meeting, Councilman John D’Amico pointed out that many commercial property owners in West Hollywood have seen their property values ​​rise by more than 500% over the past 20 years, while wages have largely not kept up.

Reached by phone on Thursday, D’Amico said he understood the concerns of business owners – especially during the pandemic – but envisioned the city as a leader that others could follow.

“Yes, people are a little in shock from COVID, but we can not return to where we were,” D’Amico said. “We need to have a new idea about all sorts of things, and for me one of those things is finally breaking the cycle of thinking about workers in the end.”

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