California Legislature Passes First Statewide Bill to Raise Minimum Wage to $15/Hour

The California state legislature poised its state to become the first in the nation to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour, a move that California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León called “historic.”

Both the California state Assembly and the state Senate voted along party lines yesterday to approve a bill that will raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour incrementally over the next six years. The plan will immediately increase the state minimum wage from $10 to $10.50 on January 1, 2017. It will then increase to $11 the following year. Each year after that, the minimum wage will be raised by $1 until 2022, when it will reach $15 per hour. Further increases would be tagged to inflation starting in 2024. Small businesses with 25 employees or less will get an additional year to bring up their wages, and the plan allows the governor to delay increases in the event of an economic downturn.

Governor Jerry Brown is expected to sign the measure into law on Monday in Los Angeles.

An estimated 5.6 million people in California, nearly 1 in 3 workers, will benefit from the pay raise. The majority of these workers – 72 percent, according to the University of California, Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education – are Latino, Black, or Asian. Around 60 percent of these workers are between the ages of 20 and 40 years old, and the average worker who will benefit from the increase earns more than half of their family’s income.

The legislature’s approval of the wage increase came after labor organizations sponsored two ballot measures to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour on a slightly faster timetable. Observers have suggested that momentum for the more aggressive wage increase – which would have put the issue directly to the voters on the state ballot – softened some opposition to the legislative bill.

Although advocates for raising the minimum wage had several state victories in 2014 and numerous cities and towns have increased their minimum wages, efforts to pass the Raise the Wage Act at the federal level, which would increase the minimum wage to $12 per hour, have been stalled. The Raise the Wage Act would give an estimated 35 million people, a majority of whom are women, a pay raise.

State opposition to raising the minimum wage has also increased. For example, included in North Carolina’s new anti-LGBT law was a provision that prohibited cities in North Carolina from passing a higher minimum wage than the state mandates.

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