By Toni G. Atkins
Last month, some observers remarked that the new minimum wage in California went from idea to legislation to law with lightning-fast speed. But really, the wave that crested with the bill signing had been swelling for quite some time, as activists, union groups, and just plain regular working citizens up and down California and across the country agitated for higher minimum wages and protested against growing income inequality.
Some communities have taken matters in their own hands and increased their own minimum wages. This didn’t happen overnight, but given the rising cost of living and wage disparity, it was seemingly inevitable.
Gov. Jerry Brown thought California’s new law was a necessary response to a proposed ballot measure that would have raised the minimum wage to $15 more quickly than the new law does. While I supported that initiative, I’m pleased with the details of the new law, and I’m happy that the governor won the support of the people who were backing the initiative.
Here’s how it will work: The minimum wage will rise to $10.50 on Jan. 1, 2017, and then to $11 on Jan. 1, 2018. After that, it grows by $1 at the beginning of each year until it reaches $15 in 2022. Then, beginning in 2024, the wage will be adjusted according to the federal consumer price index, but it will never go down, and it won’t rise by more than 3.5 percent in any single adjustment.
One thing I like about this law is it gives small businesses more time to plan for the increased payroll costs. For companies with fewer than 25 employees, the wage increase schedule lags for a year. In other words, they won’t have to pay $10.50 until 2018, and so on.
Another feature of the new law is that it takes into consideration the effects of an economic downturn. If the governor determines that California has failed specific job-growth and sales-tax tests, or a specific balanced-budget test, after the first increase happens, the increase schedule will be stopped and, basically, delayed.
I think the best word to describe what we have now is “certainty.” Everyone has known for some time that an increase was eventually coming; the people of California simply weren’t going to stand for a $10 wage much longer. But no one knew how high or how quickly it would rise.
Now, low-wage workers and businesses know what’s going to happen and when it’s going to happen, and everyone has time to plan for the gradual impact.
This was a great example of the people effectively demanding change and legislators responding with a thoughtful, prudent course of action.
It’s important for me to note that California’s new law doesn’t change my position on the proposal to increase the minimum wage in San Diego. That’s because in the early years of the state’s schedule, San Diego’s wage would rise more quickly. Additionally, the San Diego proposal includes a provision for more sick days than the state requires.
People who work full time should not have to live in poverty. We had to do right by California’s lower-wage workers. This was a thoughtful way to do it while taking into account the needs of workers and employers and allowing for a pause should the state fall into an economic downturn. I applaud the governor and the communities that worked to make this a reality, as well as the legislature for enacting the new law.
Around the district: Beginning May 15, my staff began collecting donations for Socks for Stand Down, our second annual drive to support San Diego’s homeless veterans. You can help by bringing clean, new socks or underwear to local community meetings, where my staff will collect them, or by leaving them in marked bins at libraries in my district communities, including Downtown, North Park and University Heights. You also may drop them off at my San Diego office, 1350 Front St., Room 6054, during the drive, which will continue through June 15. The donations will be turned over to organizers of the annual Stand Down event, where they will be distributed to homeless veterans. Stand Down offers these vets shelter and a variety of necessary services for one weekend each July … The San Diego Zoo, one of our region’s most cherished icons, kicked off its centennial celebration on May 14, at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park. Look for other celebrations to take place at the zoo and at other Balboa Park attractions throughout the year. The zoo has helped many millions of us — residents and tourists alike — create a century’s worth of great memories, with countless more to come. Happy 100th birthday, San Diego Zoo!
—Toni G. Atkins is the Speaker Emeritus of the California State Assembly. For more information, visit her website, asmdc.org/members/a78 or follow her on Twitter, @toniatkins.