The West Hollywood City Council is to vote on Wednesday on raising the minimum wage in the city to $17.64 an hour, an amount that would make it the highest in the country by over 50 cents.
For years, California has been one of the top states in minimum wage amounts. Statewide, the minimum wage is currently set at $14/hour for businesses with 26 or more employees and $13/hour for smaller businesses, with the amount set to go up to $15 and $14 an hour between the two classifications next year and $15 across the board in 2023. Amongst individual cities, California also leads, with the Bay Area city of Emeryville being the top minimum wage city in the nation with $17.13 an hour, beating out Seattle, which currently has a $16.69 minimum wage, although they are set to lead the nation next year with a planned jump up to $17.27 an hour.
However, in West Hollywood, a city adjacent to Beverly Hills, a recent measure to increase the wages of just hotel and hospitality workers to $17.64 due to challenges stemming from COVID-19 and work-related issues was expanded last month to include all employees in the city. City Councilmembers had been concerned about implementing a two-tiered minimum wage system and combined several proposals, which included implementing a $15 minimum wage in the city next year, a 96 hour compensated sick time system, and the aforementioned $17.64 an hour raise into one that will give hotel workers a raise to $17.64 an hour in January, with all other employees getting that amount starting in July.
“If the minimum wage is appropriate for hotel workers, it is also appropriate for all workers in the city,” said city Councilman John D’Amico last month during a city council meeting. “I’m just not sure why we would have a different minimum wage for any employee. We should choose the highest one and make that what our minimum wage is. I don’t think we should have a different wage tier for non-employees of hotels. I think that everyone should have the same minimum wage in our city.”
That proposal, originally planned for a Monday vote but delayed until Wednesday, quickly gained traction amongst many of the city’s minimum wage workers.
The highest minimum wage in the United States
“It’s a more fair amount of pay,” said Noel, a restaurant worker who has been pushing giving local restaurants higher wages to meet growing labor demand, to the Globe on Wednesday. “This would give some dignity back to workers and allow them to afford to live nearby. Plus, as a plus for businesses, it would attract workers to the city and end the labor shortages that is currently sweeping the country. If you want to bring people in, you need to pay them more.”
However many local businesses and those overseeing Post-COVID economic recovery measures say that that kind of wage hike would be not be survivable for many businesses.
“We’re not saying that we don’t agree with reaching the objective of livable workforce wages. It’s just not the time to do it, and to do it so big,” noted Pandemic Recovery Coalition trustee Keith Kaplan in a statement on Wednesday. “The restaurants, the retailers, the hotels, they can’t survive it.”
Many concurred with Kaplan in West Hollywood, including business owner Omar Ali to the Globe.
“During the pandemic, we treated employees to the best of our ability, giving them time off when needed, having them work from home when possible, and giving them hazard pay when they came in,” explained Ali. “Now, when we need to build up strength again following all of those months of reduced earnings, we’re being subjected to this. We actually want to pay employees more, because many of us are short-handed right now. But we need to be in a financially stable place to do so.
“If this passes, many businesses are looking at cutting hours of employees and other measures to keep costs low and doing some of the manual work themselves to stay alive. That’s the side of minimum wage that people usually don’t like focusing on, but it’s what will happen if this passes.”
The West Hollywood City Council is due to vote on the minimum wage measure later on Wednesday.
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