West Hollywood approves highest minimum wage in the nation

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West Hollywood could soon have the highest minimum wage in the country after its city council approved an ordinance overnight Wednesday that sets the minimum wage at $17.64 per hour.

The wage hike goes into effect Jan. 1, 2022 for all hotel workers in the city, with phased increases going into effect for other city workers depending on the size of the business. The full hike to $17.64 for all workers will not go into effect until 2023.

For workplaces with 50 or more employees, the rates will increase to $15.50 an hour on Jan. 1, 2022, and increase to $16.50 in July 2022. For employers with less than 50 employees, the rate will rise to $15 an hour in January and $16 an hour in July. Hotels will increase to $17.64 on Jan. 1.

Currently, the minimum wage in West Hollywood is between $13-$14, depending on the size of the business. However, a calculation from MIT says the living wage for a single person in Los Angeles is $19.35 an hour.

During council deliberations, several city council members voiced support for the measure, saying the minimum wage hike will help keep workers and their families out of poverty.

“This is ultimately how we can help people earn a little bit more,” Councilmember John Erickson said Wednesday night. “And ultimately how we make sure that this city does set a national standard for what we think about when it comes down to labor.”

Dozens of public commenters spoke to the council ahead of the decision on Wednesday, many of whom were business owners concerned about the implications of the increase.

“If this was implemented as proposed at $17, just our one restaurant, which is a medium size dinner-only restaurant in West Hollywood, would have nearly a $400,000 increase in cost,” business owner Walter Schild said Wednesday. “And we can’t survive on that.”

Local restaurant owner Brett Latteri told the council that his business would incur an additional $200,000 per year in expenses at a time when he and many others are still paying back loans and rent due to COVID-19.

“Restaurants will have to respond by raising prices, reducing service, cutting hours, cutting positions or closing for good,” Latteri said. “People will be out of work. The ordinance is going to harm the very people who need it the most.”

Other public commenters, however, told the council that this minimum wage increase is long overdue and necessary for individuals who no longer have access to federal unemployment benefits.

“People are sick and tired of working poverty, which has no place in our progressive city,” resident Danielle Wilson said. “The least the city council can do is put a couple more dollars in the pockets of our city’s most vulnerable workers.”

Under the new ordinance, certain employers can also qualify for a one-year waiver if they can prove that raising the minimum wage would force them to reduce their workforce by more than 20% or curtail employee hours by more than 30% to avoid bankruptcy or shutdown.

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