Last week, the Los Angeles City Council voted to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020. The gradual increase is being hailed as a major victory for activists who are pushing for higher wages across the country. LA’s move follows in the steps of Seattle and San Francisco, both of whom have approved similar increases to $15 an hour in the past year.
Business interests, unsurprisingly, are decrying the move as a job killer. The California Restaurant Association (CRA) has been one of most aggressive opponents of the increase to $15. The CRA had unsuccessfully sought to alter the city’s proposal to include tips as part of the wage calculation for some workers, meaning that waiters and waitresses could be paid a lower minimum wage if their tips made up the difference. In a statement on the organization’s website, the CRA called the LA City Council’s move “an extreme approach to a minimum wage increase” because it didn’t include the exception for tipped employees.
The city council’s vote wasn’t the only recent rebuke to the CRA on this front. The organization had also sponsored legislation on the state level that would have locked the state’s minimum wage at $9 for restaurant servers and bartenders who earn $15 an hour when tips are included. The legislation was introduced by Democratic state Assemblyman Tom Daly, the beneficiary of a CRA-hosted fundraiser in 2014. The bill included a provision that would have also invalidated local minimum wage laws like the one just passed in LA that do not have a carve out for tipped workers. Assemblyman Daly’s bill, however, gained little support and has been essentially withdrawn.
Following the LA City Council vote, the organization promised to continue its “efforts to educate city leaders on the importance of a targeted approach.” When Assemblyman Daly’s bill failed to gain support, the CRA announced it would be “redoubling efforts to educate state and local policymakers on the need for a solution that protects wages for tipped staff.”
With an annual budget over $5 million, the group has the deep pockets to make itself heard. The CRA has contributed more than $6.5 million to political groups in the past 17 years and has employed 63 different lobbyists in the past 10 years, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. In the 2013-2014 California legislative session, the CRA spent $1.1 million on lobbying and has already spent $140,855 in 2015.
Even if voters and lawmakers in California aren’t listening to them when it comes to the minimum wage, don’t expect the CRA to stop trying to shape employment policies in California anytime soon.