Election Section

California’s minimum wage second highest in the nation

By Jim Wasserman The Associated Press
Thursday January 03, 2002

SACRAMENTO — Thousands of California’s hotel, restaurant and store employees will see a little more money in their first paycheck of the New Year, with an 8 percent increase in the minimum wage. 

California, for the second straight year, hiked its minimum wage by 50 cents per hour, bringing hourly salaries to $6.75. Only Washington State now has higher minimum pay, entering 2002 at $6.90 an hour. 

“This certainly brings us closer to a living wage than we’ve ever been in the past,” said Susan Gard, spokeswoman for the Industrial Welfare Commission. “It offers some relief for some of the most marginalized workers in the state at a time when they really need it.” 

But many employers consider the raise — $1.60 an hour higher than the federal minimum of $5.15 — as another business burden. 

“It’s ludicrous after the year we’ve just had to do such a thing right now,” said Jeff King, co-founder of King’s Seafood Co., which operates 12 restaurants in the state. 

King said the increase leaves him no choice in hiking all his workers’ salaries. He said restaurants are already paying more for electricity and worker’s compensation, while suffering from September’s terrorist attacks and economic doldrums. 

“Marginally profitable restaurants will go out of business,” he said. “Hold off for a while until putting another nail in the coffin of the hospitality industry.” 

In San Diego, Susan Baumann, owner of the Bali Hai and Tom Ham’s restaurants, said she’ll have to raise prices and cut back on staff hours. 

The five-member Industrial Welfare Commission, which voted for the 2001 and 2002 hikes in Oct. 2000, resisted lobbying by the California Restaurant Association to delay the 2002 raise by six months. Officials said labor unions provided counterpressure and are lobbying now for another raise next year. 

Art Pulaski, secretary treasurer of the California Labor Federation, said employers have always complained about the timing of minimum wage increases. In a recession, he said, putting more in the hands of the poorest is actually the best economic stimulus available. Workers, he said, spend the money right away. 

This year’s hike marks the 19th time that California raised its minimum wage since it was established at 45 cents an hour in 1943. 

Pulaski called the 2002 increase a “modest victory,” amounting to about an extra $1,000 a year for a full-time worker. He said a minimum-wage California family of four will still come up short, needing at least $8.49 an hour to stay out of poverty. 

State employment staffers estimate the number of workers affected by the New Year’s raise at somewhere around 600,000 people. Most are under 25 years old.