While other cities across America, including West Coast cities like Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Long Beach and San Diego have been adopting ordinances raising their local minimum wage — climbing toward a $15 per hour minimum wage by 2020 — Irvine is apparently America’s only major city headed in the other direction, actually cutting its minimum wage by more than 20%.
Councilmember Christina Shea and Mayor Steven Choi have been leading the effort to repeal Irvine’s “Living Wage” law — now set at a minimum of about $11 per hour (or about $13 per hour for those not receiving health benefits or other job benefits). The practical effect of the Shea-Choi repeal proposal would be to allow the hourly wage paid to hundreds of low-income workers to fall to the state minimum wage of just $9 per hour.
The elimination of the Irvine Living Wage requirement would hit certain workers the hardest — mostly landscape workers, janitors and maintenance workers who are employed by private firms under “outsourced” contracts with the City.
At its May 26th meeting, the Council voted 4 to 1 for an outright repeal of the Irvine Living Wage Ordinance. Joining Shea and Choi in supporting the motion were Councilmembers Jeff Lalloway and Lynn Schott. Speaking against the motion was Councilmember Beth Krom who reflected her sadness that Irvine, once in the lead on the Living Wage issue, was now alone among America’s cities in actually heading backwards.
“This is about what kind of City we want to have,” Krom said. She noted that it was during her term as Mayor (2004-2008) that she and then-Irvine Councilmember Larry Agran first proposed and won adoption of the Irvine Living Wage Ordinance, which initially pegged the City’s minimum wage at $10 per hour. This was well above the federal and state minimum wages of about $7 per hour at the time, and enough to enable a full-time Irvine “living-wage worker” to live in Irvine above the federal poverty line.
In supporting Shea’s repeal proposal, Mayor Steven Choi invoked a confused analysis that suggested Irvine was somehow “subsidizing” other cities in Orange County by prescribing a wage that was higher than the state minimum wage of $9 per hour.
Councilmember Jeff Lalloway went even further, intimating that he was opposed to the entire idea of any minimum wage requirements. He dismissed the Irvine Living Wage as what he repeatedly termed a “feel-good wage.” He seemed to be saying that it makes its advocates feel good but the working poor don’t really deserve a living wage.
Hearing Lalloway’s arguments, one member of the audience leaned over to a companion and said, audibly, “That’s why he’s known at City Hall as ‘The Bully’ and ‘Mr. Mean’.”
About a dozen citizens testified against the repeal proposal, pleading with the Council to have compassion for Orange County’s working poor, and asserting that it would be immoral and contrary to Irvine community values to push low-wage workers and their families into poverty. Irvine resident Gail Lewis, usually testifying as an animal welfare advocate, this time called on Councilmembers who “profess to be Christians” to ask themselves whether hurting the working poor is what Jesus would countenance.