The Long Beach City Council voted on September 6 to allocate $700,000 for community outreach about the state’s minimum wage law and wage theft, and to fund two new wage enforcement investigation positions. Since that vote, the city attorney has determined that it is not within the city’s purview to enforce the state minimum wage law and that those funds should be allocated for another use.


At the September 6 meeting, 3rd District Councilmember Suzie Price came prepared with a presentation outlining the state’s existing wage enforcement efforts and cautioned against duplicating the state’s services. She also pointed out that neither the council nor the city attorney’s office were yet aware as to whether the city could actually enforce the state’s minimum wage law. As it turns out, it cannot.


City Attorney Charles Parkins’ office engaged outside counsel, Rutan & Tucker, LLP, for an opinion on the matter. A memo from Assistant City Attorney Michael Mais to the city council, dated October 18, said in part: “Essentially, the city attorney’s office cannot take any active role in the enforcement of state minimum wage laws because administrative remedies would be processed through existing state agencies . . . and the city’s charter precludes the city attorney’s office from representing private individuals in legal matters, including legal actions processed through the state court systems or state administrative agencies.”


An attached memo from Rutan & Tucker stated that “enforcement by the city attorney’s office is not permitted,” in reference to state minimum wage laws and any activity that is the sole responsibility of the state through the California Department of Industrial Relations. The City Charter defines the powers and duties of the city attorney’s office, and those powers do not include enforcement of state wage laws, according to the memo.


The city attorney’s office recommended in its correspondence to council that the $700,000 allocated for wage enforcement matters be reallocated to the General Fund or to another department for educational purposes related to the minimum wage.


At tonight’s (November 22) city council meeting, Councilmembers Suzie Price, Daryl Supernaw and Al Austin are proposing the dollars be put toward public safety priorities, including “restoration of resources, staffing, equipment or any other priority,” according to the agendized item.


“This is another example of some councilmembers being so wrapped up in representing some of their constituents who were complaining about wage theft, that they were not listening to reason and they ended up spending taxpayer money (outside counsel and staff time) needlessly,” said Business Journal Publisher George Economides. “As Councilwoman Price correctly pointed out to her colleagues in a very factual presentation, the state oversees wage theft issues, but her colleagues ignored her, foolishly allocating $700,000 that should have gone toward public safety. Hopefully, now it will.”


He added that wage theft is a serious issue and employers who intentionally cheat their employees should be dealt with severely. “I have no sympathy for employers who steal from their employees,” he said. “They need to be locked up.”