California legislators, unions reach deal to raise minimum wage to $15 an hour

Placards during demonstration for higher wages in Chicago.
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Placards during demonstration for higher wages in Chicago.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California legislators and labor unions on Saturday reached a tentative agreement that will take the state's minimum wage from $10 to $15 an hour, a state senator said, a move that would make for the largest statewide minimum in the nation by far.

Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who stressed that the deal was not yet finalized, told The Associated Press the proposal would go before the Legislature as part of his minimum-wage bill that stalled last year.

Leno said the deal would avoid taking the issue to the ballot. One union-backed initiative has already qualified for the ballot, and a second, competing measure is also trying to qualify.

"This is an issue I've been working on for many years," Leno said. "The governor and stakeholders have all been negotiating earnestly and in good faith for some time."

Leno did not confirm specifics of the agreement, but most proposals have the wage increasing about a dollar per year until it reaches $15 per hour.

The Los Angeles Times, which first reported the deal, said the wage would rise to $10.50 in 2017, to $11 an hour in 2018, and one dollar per year to take it to $15 by 2022. Businesses with fewer than 25 employees would have an extra year to comply.

At $10 an hour, California already has one of the highest minimum wages in the nation along with Massachusetts. Only Washington, D.C., at $10.50 per hour is higher. The hike to $15 would make it the highest statewide wage in the nation by far, though raises are in the works in other states that might change by the time the plateau is reached in 2022.

Some states have passed higher minimums for government employees and state-contracted workers, and some cities including Seattle have already passed $15 an hour increases.

And Oregon officials approved a law earlier this month that will increase that state's minimum wage to nearly $15 in urban areas over the next six years.

California union leaders, however, said they would not immediately dispense with planned ballot measures.

Sean Wherley, a spokesman for SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, confirmed that his group was involved in the negotiations. But he said the group will continue pushing ahead with its initiative that has already qualified for the ballot.

"Ours is on the ballot. We want to be certain of what all this is," Wherley said. "We are going ahead with it. If some agreement is signed into law, then our executive board would decide what to do. They would only make that decision after any agreement is signed into law."

The union proposal that has already qualified for the ballot calls for reaching the $15 mark by 2021. The second proposed measure would reach $15 by 2020. Businesses and Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown have said such a steep wage increase would be incredibly costly.

A spokesman for Brown, Evan Westrup, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Kevin Liao, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, declined to comment.