The city of Los Angeles has a $15 Minimum Wage Ballot Initiative, introduced by the Los Angeles Workers Assembly, which will actively collect signatures until the end of January 2015. Upon voter approval, it would immediately lift the wages of 800,000 workers. This puts a spotlight on wage theft with enforcement and education clauses that include participation by grass-roots community organizations and the city’s neighborhood councils.
The Nov. 4 election results make it crystal clear that the majority nationwide want an increase in the minimum wage now. Every place where a minimum-wage vote was on the ballot it won. Minimum-wage increases won in California in both Oakland by 81 percent and San Francisco by 77 percent.
Voters united on this because both the federal and state minimum wages reflect years of dilution. The real value of what California’s current minimum wage of $9 can buy is less than what the minimum wage in 1968 could buy.
According to a recent study commissioned by the city of Los Angeles, 83 percent of workers making less than $13.25 an hour in the city are people of color and the majority are women. Still, all workers would benefit from an increase in the minimum wage since all wages are depressed by the low level of the minimum wage.
Low-wage workers are nearly 50 percent of the workforce, so any change in their consciousness has great potential in making social change.
Super exploitation of migrant workers — 60,000 of whom last year were forced to work for $1 per day or less in detention centers — would therefore be required to receive the $15 minimum wage for any work forced on them. In addition, any employer using an employee’s undocumented status as a means of retaliation for protesting wage theft would be in violation of the ballot measure.
There is a clause in the ballot initiative that establishes the right of community organizations, through the LA Workers Assembly and official Neighborhood Councils, to conduct investigations of violations and provide education on site for any industries in Los Angeles that employ large numbers of low-wage workers.
The overwhelming sentiment for a minimum wage closer to a livable wage is not new. The Baltimore Sun on Nov. 7 reported: “Since 1995, voters in 15 states have approved increases in the state-level minimum wage. Over that time, the issue has not once lost. Not once.”
The progressive movement has an opportunity to jump on the wave of this minimum-wage movement, encourage it, promote it and show visible solidarity with it. The $15 Minimum Wage Initiative Campaign by the Los Angeles Workers Assembly will build it with community, labor and progressive movement support.
All social justice activists, progressive organizations, churches, students, union leaders, including the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, can contribute by getting the petition out to their members, family, neighbors and make it viral in the communities.
To download the petition, go to 15LA.Org or visit the LA Workers Assembly at the Harriet Tubman Center, 5278 W. Pico Blvd.; call 323-306-6240.