On Monday, Feb. 11, the Pasadena City Council will review the Pasadena Minimum Wage Ordinance, which was voted into law in February 2016. The council will hear compassionate arguments pro and con regarding a proposed “pause” in enacting a $15 per hour minimum wage.
Do we follow the lead of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and reach $15 in 2020, or do we follow the lead of Gov. Jerry Brown, who crafted the state minimum wage ordinance to reach $15 in 2022?
Maybe Governor Brown knew a little bit more than some of us about the impacts and adjustments that would have to be made to handle a 40 percent increase in the minimum wage. Maybe that is why a large majority of cities in California, including Glendale, La Cañada Flintridge, Arcadia, South Pasadena, Alhambra, San Marino, Temple City, San Gabriel and Monterey Park have decided to follow the state minimum wage timeline. The Long Beach City Council, only months after passing a new wage ordinance, voted to slow the minimum wage increases to match the state’s timeline. Maybe they also knew a little bit more than some of us, or maybe they just wanted to align themselves with the state out of “fairness” and to give a level playing field to their city’s small business community. You will hear the word “fairness” often in this discussion from both sides of the issue. But what really is fair and how will it be achieved at the City Council meeting on Monday?
There will probably be 50 to 60 public comment cards and three or four surveys submitted to the council for its attention and review. Surveys can be selective, jaded, tone deaf and, as many of us in Pasadena may have read last week in many local news publications, they can be branded fraudulent or sent out representing a wrong source. Do these surveys show what the real impact of the last three yearly wage increases has had on businesses with shorter hours of operation, cutbacks on staff scheduling and layoffs, and loss of new hires. No, they don’t.
The questions often asked by the surveyors, though not necessarily misleading, are often broad-brushed, soliciting a yes or no answer without delving into the pertinent ramifications that their answers may produce. The same survey template that might be used in Seattle or San Francisco might not work in Pasadena. In a city that has arguably more restaurants and nonprofits per capita than any city in the United States, how could it work? It wouldn’t be an apple to apples comparison. No matter how hard you may try to make it work, one size doesn’t fit all. What won’t be represented in most of these surveys are the real examples of what the small businesses have had to do to protect their employees and to sustain their businesses.
At Robin’s Woodfire BBQ, the restaurant that I own, we are now closed four days a week and open only on weekends. We cut back our staff by attrition from 30 to 22. Nobody got laid off. Our fulltime staff schedules were protected by staff members working off premise at festivals and catering. The front of the house staff was given a month notice of schedule reductions so they could pick up replacement hours at other restaurants where they worked. Almost every server also worked at another restaurant. We did not hire any new employees to replace those who left due to moving out of the area or because of school obligations. In total, we reduced our work schedule approximately 300 hours per week. Nobody at Robin’s makes the minimum wage except for tipped employees. We also pay the higher mandated minimum wage for 26-plus employees even though at 21 employees we are in the lower tier wage scale. This example of sustaining a business and protecting employees is being repeated by almost every restaurant that I know of in Pasadena, and they will share their story.
The bottom line is we have less employees working fewer hours. Numbers don’t lie. What is fair? I ask the City Council to not have any preconceived notions regarding their ultimate vote pertaining to the wage review and to truly understand that we are not the enemy. There is no enemy in this issue, just a difference of opinion based on opinions on one side and facts on the other.
Robin Salzer is a small business owner, a former City Council candidate, a former city commissioner, and founder of the Pasadena Hot Meal Program.