California, New York raise minimum wage to $15

The governors of California and New York on April 4 signed into law new minimum wage bills that will raise the minimum wage for most workers in their states to $15 an hour.

The new laws raise the minimum wage in increments.

In California, the minimum wage reaches $15 an hour for most workers by 2022.

New York adopted a two-tier approach that raises the minimum wage to $15 an hour in New York City by 2018. Workers in Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester counties, all suburbs of New York City, will see their minimum wage increase to $15 an hour by the end of 2021.

Wages for those living in other New York counties will top out at $12.50 an hour by 2020. After that, the state’s labor commission will periodically adjust the minimum wage for workers in those counties as the cost of living increases.

In California, hundreds of low-wage workers demonstrated at the state Capitol on March 31, the day that the state’s General Assembly was preparing to vote on SB 3, the bill that California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law on April 4.

The demonstration underscored the worker activism that made a $15 minimum wage a reality.

“Wages didn’t get raised until workers raised their voices,” said Laphonza Butler, president of SEIU California and SEIU Local 2015 at the Mach 31 demonstration. “The credit for making history today belongs to the workers who spoke out and risked it all, the labor unions and community organizations who supported them, and elected leaders here in California who listened. As a result, millions of Californians are on the path out of poverty.”

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the new minimum wage law at a rally sponsored by New York’s labor unions.

When he signed the new minimum wage law, he also signed a new law that provides paid family leave benefits for workers.

In 2018, when the law becomes effective, New York workers will be eligible for eight weeks of paid leave equal to one-half of current salary to care for a newborn baby or a family member who becomes severely ill. The number of paid leave weeks increases to 12 by 2021.

The movement for a $15 minimum wage began just three years ago in New York City when 200 fast food and other underpaid workers went on strike for a $15 an hour minimum wage.

In the early stages of the movement, the demand for such a big increase was dismissed as unrealistic.

But the voices of workers in the streets made the demand difficult to ignore, and cities such as Seattle and San Francisco passed ordinances that phased in a $15 an hour minimum wage.

Critics, however, continue to criticize the new minimum wage laws as job killers.

After California and New York passed their $15 a minimum wage laws, a columnist for Forbes magazine called the new laws “a booby prize” for workers because the job losses caused by higher wages will offset their benefits.

Lawrence Michel and David Cooper of the Economic Policy Institute, however, disagree. They call the new wage laws, “bold” and “exactly what we need.”

“Simply put, a bold effort is needed to make up for the lost decades in which the minimum wage was simply eroded by inflation or was increased only modestly,” write Michel and Cooper.

They note that some job losses can be expected due to the increased minimum wage but that the total number of work hours won’t be affected. As a result, those who lose jobs should be able to find new jobs that pay the new higher minimum wage.

“Raising the minimum wage to $15  will significantly boost the overall income going to low-wage workers and their families,” write Michel and Cooper.

A report by the University of California Berkeley Labor Center finds that a big increase to the minimum wage helps underpaid workers significantly and can improve the overall economy.

According to the report, “Higher wages will be absorbed by employers through reduced turnover, improved productivity, and small price increases,” which will be offset by “the increased sales generated by low-wage workers who receive raises.”

Experts are studying the real impact of significantly raising the minimum wage on Seattle, whose minimum wage ordinance became effective more than a year ago.

According to the professor leading the study, “the sky is not falling” because of the new ordinance. “If it was really bad (as some predicted), a lot of people would have lost their jobs and every opening would get tons of applicants. That is not happening,” said Jacob Vigdor to the Seattle Times.

Vigdor is the Daniel J. Evans professor of Public Policy and Governance at the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington.

The Times also reported on the impact that the new ordinance is having on low-wage workers. The response of one of those interviewed was poignant.

“I don’t have to struggle as much,” said a store clerk whose wage just increased to $13 an hour to the Times reporter.

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CA becomes second state to require paid sick leave, but some workers excluded

When Gov. Jerry Brown signed the  Healthy Workplace, Healthy Families bill (AB 1522) on August 10, California became only the second state in the US to require most employers to provide paid sick leave to their employees.

Advocates estimate that 6.5 million Californians who now work without sick leave benefits will be covered by the new law.

In a last minute deal between Gov. Brown and Assembly member  Lorena Gonzalez, the bill’s sponsor, 385,000 home health care workers for the state’s In-Home Supportive Services program were exempted from coverage.

A broad spectrum of labor unions, whose members by and large already have paid sick leave, supported the bill.

Two unions representing home health care workers, AFSCME’s United Domestic Workers, and SEIU’s United Long Term Care Workers withdrew their support after the deal between Gov. Brown and Assembly member Gonzalez was announced.

The bill requires employers to allow workers to accumulate three sick days a year. It covers all workers who have been on the job for 90 days including temporary and part-time workers.

Paid sick leave can be used when an employee is sick or to care for a sick family member, including domestic partners.

“By signing this important bill into law, the Governor put an end to the cruel Hobson’s choice that more than 6.5 million workers face when deciding whether to go to work sick or lose wages that keep food on the table for their families,” said Art Pulaski, executive secretary treasurer of the California AFL-CIO. “This law protects workers and consumers and is vital to public health.”

California joins Connecticut as he second state in the US to require employers to provide paid sick leave.

On the same day that Gov. Brown signed the California paid sick day law, Patterson, New Jersey passed a city ordinance similar to California’s new law.

Patterson joins other New Jersey cities, including Passaic, Newark, East Orange, and Jersey City, that have passed paid sick leave ordinances.

San Francisco, Oakland, New York City, and Seattle also have paid sick leave ordinances.

The World Health Organization reports that paid sick leave is a key component of decent work,” but the US remains the lone wealthy nation in the world that does not require employers to provide paid sick leave.

US House Member Rosa Delauro introduced a paid sick leave bill in the US House of Representatives, but Republicans prevented a vote from being taken on the bill.

Businesses have argued that requiring paid sick leave would result in higher business costs and job cuts, but the dire warnings have been unfounded.

The Center for Economic Policy Research examined the impact that paid sick leave had on business in Connecticut, which implemented the requirement two years ago.

“Most employers reported a modest impact or no impact of the law on their costs or business operations, and they typically found that the administrative burden was minimal,” said the CERP report on its findings.  “. . . A year and a half after its implementation, more than three-quarters of surveyed employers expressed support for the earned paid sick leave law.”

Despite benefits of paid sick leave, Gov. Brown told Assembly member Gonzalez that he would sign AB 1522 only if the state’s home health care workers were excluded from coverage.

The state contracts with home health care workers to provide in-home care to more than 400,000 elderly and disabled people. The in-home care helps the elderly and disabled stay out of nursing homes.

The unions representing home health care workers called the decision to exclude home health care workers an act of disrespect.

“By excluding hundreds of thousands of home care workers through the state’s In-Home Supportive Services program, AB 1522 has effectively created a second class of workers in our state,” said Doug Moore, executive director of United Domestic Workers (AFSCME). “Rather than show courage, lawmakers have denied dignity to caregivers and the seniors and people with disabilities they serve.”

“Caregivers, predominantly women and people of color, deserve the same rights as every other worker,” said Laphonza Butler, president of United Long Term Care Workers (SEIU). “I thought we in California were past the point of debate on such a basic matter of equality and dignity.”

Butler and Moore said that including home health care workers in the paid sick leave law would become their priority when the California Legislature reconvenes.

Pulaski said that it would be a priority of the state AFL-CIO as well.

“California’s unions won’t rest until every single worker in our state receives equal access to paid sick days,” said Pulaski. “Home care workers, like all workers, deserve the opportunity to earn paid sick days on the job. We’ll continue to fight for In-Home Supportive Services workers to ensure that California treats all workers with fairness and dignity.”