Liam Dillon and Patrick McGreevy
March 31, 2016

In a move that puts California at the forefront of efforts to raise wages for low-income workers across the country, the Legislature approved a sweeping plan Thursday to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next six years, boosting the future paychecks of millions of the state’s workers.

The Senate voted 26 to 12 — with loud cheers of “Si se puede” from the gallery above — to give final approval and send the measure to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk less than one week after a legislative compromise. Brown will sign the wage hike into law in Los Angeles on Monday.

“At its core, this proposal is about fairness,” Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) said just before the vote.

“This is historic, and today I am proud to be a Californian.”

Under the plan, the state’s hourly minimum wage would increase from the current $10 to $10.50 on Jan. 1, 2017, then to $11 the following year, and increase by $1 annually until 2022.

Businesses with fewer than 26 employees would get an additional year to comply, and Brown and his successors could delay the increases by one year in the case of an economic downturn. Assuming no pauses, the minimum wage would increase each year based on inflation starting in 2024.

All but two Democrats — Assembly members Tom Daly of Anaheim and Adam Gray of Merced — voted for the increase, and not a single Republican in either chamber voted for the measure. Both raised concerns about the automatic cost-of-living increases that would raise the wage higher than $15 an hour as soon as 2024.

The plan passed the state Assembly earlier Thursday, 48 to 26, after opponents complained it was rushed and did not include a wide group at the negotiating table during what at times was an emotional debate in both houses of the Legislature.

Democratic lawmakers exhorted their colleagues to think of the difficulties of working families in a state with large income inequality and high housing costs.

“This is an argument about economic justice,” Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles) said during floor debate. “Justice is not something that can be negotiated or compromised.”

Republicans countered that a too-high minimum wage would limit opportunity particularly for those just entering the workforce.

“Our job in this building is to help people climb the economic ladder, not cut off the bottom rungs,” said Sen. Ted Gaines (R-Rocklin), calling it a “death sentence” for struggling businesses in his district. “That is exactly what will happen if we shove this unprecedented cost increase on businesses.”

Economists have estimated the measure would increase the pay of 5.6 million workers across the state — nearly 1 in 3. No state has a minimum wage higher than California’s $10 an hour, and this deal will put California on a path to remain the highest in the country.

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