Fight For $15 Nears Big Win In California

Bill Scher

Tenacity and flexibility is helping California workers get a raise.

Despite labor activists having won an hourly minimum wage increase to $10 in the state three years ago, and despite the reluctance for another raise from Gov. Jerry Brown, a compromise between the governor and legislative leaders has been struck for a $15 minimum wage. While “this is not a done deal,” according to one supportive lawmaker, as it has not cleared the state legislature, a lot of ducks appear to be lined up.

The 2013 law that phased in a $10 minimum, reaching the plateau this year, already awarded California the mantle of highest minimum wage state, sharing the prize with Massachusetts. When labor activists this year moved toward putting an initiative on the ballot that would jack the wage floor up to $15 in 2021, Gov. Brown sounded a cautious note: “Raise the minimum wage too much and you put a lot of poor people out of work.”

But activists squeezed Brown by moving ahead anyway, qualifying for the ballot, backed by polls saying the measure would win handily.

Brown, wily as always, sought a compromise to soften the measure and avoid a costly ballot initiative campaign. The “tentative” deal, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, pushes back the phase-in timeframe so $15 is not reached until 2022, with an extra year given to small businesses. Furthermore, the increases could be delayed during economic downturns.

Still, worker advocates get what they most want: a $15 benchmark to which other states can aspire. The game is forever changed.

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