$15 Minimum Wage Proposal Could Come to California Ballots This Fall

The Fair Wage Act of 2016 would raise California’s minimum wage to $11 in 2017 and gradually increase the wage a dollar a year until it reaches $15 in 2021.

A California initiative to lift the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2021 has won a spot on the November state ballot. a katz / Shutterstock.com

A California initiative to lift the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2021 has won a spot on the November state ballot.

The California Secretary of State’s office certified Tuesday that initiative organizers had collected the necessary 402,468 signatures to go before the state’s voters.

The Fair Wage Act of 2016 would raise California’s minimum wage to $11 in 2017 and gradually increase the wage a dollar a year until it reaches $15 in 2021. The wage would then be subject to cost-of-living adjustments.

California’s base wage today is $10 an hour, one of the nation’s highest. The current hourly wage adds up to less than $21,000 a year for full-time workers.

“No one can survive on the current minimum wage, and families shouldn’t have to double up in an apartment—like I do—just to get by,” Maria Sandoval, a Los Angeles gas station attendant who earns $10 an hour, said in a statement issued by the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West, the measure’s sponsor.

Opponents of the wage hike point to the potential impact of higher labor costs and shrinking profits. Advocates say wage hikes combat poverty, reduce government aid to the poor, and boost local and state income tax receipts.

“California has often been the incubator of ideas and policies that spread across the country—this initiative fits that mold and will make our state the leader in the fight against income inequality,” Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement.

The measure could still be yanked from the state ballot if the state’s governor and Democratic-controlled legislature can broker a compromise bill that’s agreeable to labor unions and business interests, as the Los Angeles Times reported. A state ballot initiative can be withdrawn by June 30, under a 2014 law.

“It won’t be easy,” Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) told the Los Angeles Times, referring to the possibility of lawmakers reaching a deal.

California’s largest labor union is also collecting signatures for a competing minimum wage initiative to hike the base wage to $15 an hour by 2020, as the Sacramento Bee reported.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) this month signed that state’s landmark tiered minimum wage law, which would see Portland’s minimum pay rate rise to $14.75 by 2022. Democratic legislators backed the bill, in part, to head off two $13.50 and $15 base wage ballot initiatives, as the Oregonian reported.

The California measure has gained the support of more than 300 community, labor, religious, and business groups, the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West said. Backers include U.S. Reps. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove), Janice Hahn (D-San Pedro), and more than two dozen state legislators.

The Los Angeles City Council agreed last year to gradually lift the city’s minimum wage to $15 by 2020. Lawmakers in San Francisco and Seattle have passed a $15 hourly wage increase. New York’s governor pushed through a $15 minimum wage hike for state workers that takes effect at the end of 2018.

A study by the Economic Roundtable found broad benefits from higher wages in Los Angeles.

“We found that a phased-in increase to $15.25 by 2019 [in Los Angeles] will put $5.9 billion more into the pockets of 723,000 working people, which will generate $6.4 billion in increased sales,” wrote Yvonne Yen Liu, one of the group’s researchers.

More than 200 bills in 2015 called for increases to state or federal minimum wage, according to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures. Fourteen states began 2016 with a higher minimum wage than they had in 2015. The federal minimum wage remains $7.25 per hour.