The Long Beach City Council voted on September 6 to adopt the state’s minimum wage law in lieu of the city’s own ordinance, which outlined a more aggressive rate of wage increases. Due to a friendly amendment suggested by 1st District Councilmember Lena Gonzalez, the council also had to debate whether or not to allocate $475,000 for community outreach about wage theft and, on top of that, to fund two new wage enforcement investigation positions.
The $475,000 had already been identified by city staff as necessary to enforce the city’s own minimum wage ordinance, if the council chose to make that choice. Budget Manager Lea Eriksen estimated it would cost an additional $220,000 to fund two wage enforcement investigators, bringing the total cost associated with Gonzalez’s friendly amendment to nearly $700,000. This would be an annual expense.
The original motion to go with the state’s law was made by 5th District Councilmember Stacy Mungo, who then took Gonzalez’s friendly amendment – which she ultimately accepted and tagged on to her motion – under advisement from her colleagues on the council.
Third District Councilmember Suzie Price asked Assistant City Attorney Mike Mais if it was possible for the city to enforce a state law. Mais replied that the city would only have that authority if it were specifically granted within the specified piece of state legislation. He did not know offhand if the state’s minimum wage law delineated any wage enforcement authority to municipalities and said the matter would be looked into.
Price came prepared with a researched PowerPoint presentation about the state’s own efforts to investigate wage theft. She pointed out that the state is funding “a whole new crop” of wage enforcement positions related specifically to wage theft, including within the Department of Industrial Relation’s Long Beach office. Last year, that office filed 2,579 wage theft claims, according to her presentation.
A state labor commissioner told Price prior to the council meeting that, if the city were to have its own staff to enforce a state law, it would need in-house labor attorneys. “We would not be able to afford that with the $700,000 that we’re planning to put in to outreach,” she said.
“I am not opposed to having some sort of an enforcement arm in the City of Long Beach. I actually think it’s a great idea,” Price said. “I just don’t want to duplicate what the state is already doing, and I also don’t want to take money that we could be using for other things. If we’re talking about a structural budget we could be talking about more police officers, which is what we need more than anything right now.”
Price made a friendly amendment to set aside Gonzalez’s requested funds until city staff could report back to the council about whether or not the city is even able to enforce a state law.
“Let’s just stop being divisive and saying that just because you don’t give me exactly what I want, you don’t care about it. What I’m saying is, can’t we educate ourselves a little bit more?” Price said.
Mayor Robert Garcia and several other councilmembers supported Gonzalez’s friendly amendment. 4th District Councilmember Daryl Supernaw drew a comparison to her proposal, noting that the traffic circle and Pacific Coast Highway in his district are overseen by Caltrans, and that the city does not have jurisdiction over those roadways.
Price made a substitute motion to separate the votes so that councilmembers who didn’t agree with Gonzalez’s amendment but wanted to vote for the state minimum wage would be able to express that in two separate votes. She did not receive the second necessary for her substitute motion to pass.
Mungo accepted Gonzalez’s friendly amendment, and the city council voted unanimously, with 6th District Councilmember Dee Andrews absent, to go with the state minimum wage while creating and funding wage enforcement efforts within the city.
Business Journal Publisher George Economides said he would not have accepted the amendment, even though, he said, it was obvious a deal was cut before the meeting.
“Wage theft is of course a serious issue,” he said, “and any business cheating its employees should be held accountable. But it appears the state has a good handle on it and is even adding more staff. Councilmember Price was spot on with her presentation. Why in the heck should taxpayers spend $700,000 to duplicate state efforts? It’s an absolute waste of money. I think the vast majority of residents would prefer that money be used to hire four or five police officers, especially since we are losing a lot of officers to other cities. Taxpayers deserve better financial oversight from the mayor and councilmembers.”