LOS ANGELES (CN) – Amid fanfare and criticism, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill Monday raising the statewide minimum wage to $15 an hour, one of highest in the nation.
“This is about economic justice,” Brown told a crowded auditorium of cheering labor activists and legislators before signing the bill. “This is a very important day. It’s not the end of the struggle, but it’s a very important step forward.”
At almost the same time, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that will raise that state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour in New York City by 2021 while increasing it in the rest of the state more slowly.
California’s new law increases the minimum wage for most employers from $10 to $10.50 this coming January and to $11 in 2018. Then, the state’s base salary rises by a dollar per year until reaching $15 in 2022.
For employers with 25 or fewer workers, the increases begin in 2018 and hit $15 in 2023.
The legislation also allows the governor to pause the increases for any year predicted to have a state budget deficit or following a year with negative job growth.
Employer groups oppose the new law. In a statement Monday, Tom Scott, the executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business in California, said the $15 rate will have “devastating impacts on small businesses,” according to news reports.
“Ignoring the voices and concerns of the vast majority of job creators in this state is deeply concerning and illustrates why many feel Sacramento is broken,” Scott said.
In the past, Brown had raised similar concerns. He opposed a $15 minimum-wage proposal last year after the state Department of Finance determined that a $13-per-hour minimum wage could slow economic growth and increase the state’s payroll by more than $1 billion.
At the bill signing ceremony Monday, the governor acknowledged that “economically, minimum wages may not make sense.”
He added, “But morally, socially and politically, they make every sense.”
Brown traced the idea of paying workers a “living wage” to 19th-century religious ideals.
“It derives from morality, from fraternity, from the Bible, from prophetic tradition and from everything that gives meaning to our lives,” the one-time seminarian said.
He also noted that “there’s a lot of anger going on in the presidential campaign,” and said that one of the sources “ultimately is the way the average American is being treated by this economy. Today we do something about that in a very significant way.”
Also speaking at Monday’s signing ceremony were state Sen. Mark Leno, the bill’s author, and the two top leaders in the Legislature, Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de Leon and new Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon.
“Today, we show we value the contribution of hard-working men and women in low-wage jobs,” de Leon said.
Brown gave some credit for the law to the Service Employees International Union, which had qualified a tougher minimum-wage initiative for the November ballot. The threat of that proposal spurred leaders in Sacramento to agree on Senate Bill 3 by Leno, D-San Francisco.
The initiative “gave a real thrust” to negotiations, Brown said.
“Without that, we probably wouldn’t be here today.”
Union members and other activists in the audience at times were so enthusiastic that de Leon said the gathering seemed like a Jerry Brown rally. When he joked that the governor accepted the nomination, the crowd chanted, “Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!”
At the ceremony’s end, some in the audience chanted “Si se pudo,” converting the cry of “Si, se puede” – yes, we can – to the equivalent of “yes, we did.”
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