LOS ANGELES — The nation’s second-largest city voted Tuesday to increase its minimum wage from $9 an hour to $15 an hour by 2020, in what is perhaps the most significant victory so far for labor groups and their allies who are engaged in a national push to raise the minimum wage.
The increase, which the City Council passed in a 14-to-1 vote, comes as workers across the country are rallying for higher wages and several large companies, including Facebook and Walmart, have moved to raise their lowest wages. Several other cities, including San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle and Oakland, Calif., have already approved increases, and dozens more are considering doing the same. In 2014, a number of Republican-leaning states like Alaska and South Dakota also raised their state-level minimum wages by ballot initiative.
The effect is likely to be particularly strong in Los Angeles, where, according to some estimates, almost 50 percent of the city’s work force earns less than $15 an hour. Under the plan approved Tuesday, the minimum wage will rise over five years.
“The effects here will be the biggest by far,” said Michael Reich, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, who was commissioned by city leaders to conductseveral studies on the potential effects of a minimum-wage increase. “The proposal will bring wages up in a way we haven’t seen since the 1960s. There’s a sense spreading that this is the new norm, especially in areas that have high costs of housing.”
The groups pressing for higher minimum wages said that the Los Angeles vote could set off a wave of increases across Southern California, and that higher pay scales would improve the way of life for the region’s vast low-wage work force.
Supporters of higher wages say they hope the move will reverberate nationally. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York announced this month that he was convening a state board to consider a wage increase in the local fast-food industry, which could be enacted without a vote in the State Legislature. Immediately after the Los Angeles vote, pressure began to build on Mr. Cuomo to reject an increase that falls short of $15 an hour.
“The L.A. increase nudges it forward,” said Dan Cantor, the national director of the Working Families Party, which was founded in New York and has helped pass progressive economic measures in several states. “It puts an exclamation point on the need for $15 to be where the wage board ends up.”
The current minimum wage in New York State is $8.75, versus a federal minimum wage of $7.25, and will rise to $9 at the end of 2015. A little more than one-third of workers citywide and statewide now make below $15 an hour.
Los Angeles County is also considering a measure that would lift the wages of thousands of workers in unincorporated parts of the county.
Much of the debate here has centered on potential regional repercussions. Many of the low-wage workers who form the backbone of Southern California’s economy live in the suburbs of Los Angeles. Proponents of the wage increase say they expect that several nearby cities, including Santa Monica, West Hollywood and Pasadena, will also approve higher wages.
But opponents of higher minimum wages, including small-business owners and the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, say the increase approved Tuesday could turn Los Angeles into a “wage island,” pushing businesses to nearby places where they can pay employees less.
“They are asking businesses to foot the bill on a social experiment that they would never do on their own employees,” said Stuart Waldman, the president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, a trade group that represents companies and other organizations in Southern California. “A lot of businesses aren’t going to make it,” he added. “It’s great that this is an increase for some employees, but the sad truth is that a lot of employees are going to lose their jobs.”
Read more: NY Times