SACRAMENTO — The minimum wage in California would rise from $3.35 an hour to $4.25 under Democratic-sponsored legislation passed Wednesday by the Assembly on a strict party-line vote.
The 90-cent increase would be the first in seven years and would give California the highest minimum wage in the nation.
"It will move a minimum-wage worker almost to the equal of a welfare recipient," said Assemblyman Richard Floyd (D-Hawthorne), who carried the bill on the Assembly floor. "It will give a measure of dignity that is long past due to people working for the minimum wage in the state of California."
The bill, approved by the Assembly on a vote of 42 to 35, was returned to the Senate for approval of Assembly amendments. Democrats cast all the votes in favor of the measure, and Republicans provided all the votes against it.
Republican Gov. George Deukmejian said earlier this year that he favored an increase in the minimum wage but preferred that the rate be set by the Industrial Welfare Commission. A Deukmejian spokesman indicated Wednesday that a veto is probable because Deukmejian opposes using legislation to raise the minimum rate.
The bill's author, Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles), and other backers hope the measure will increase pressure on the commission to raise the minimum wage.
"That's part of the strategy," an aide to the senator said. "I think it sends them a message that this is where the Legislature is at and it's something they need to consider."
The little-noticed Industrial Welfare Commission, created by the Legislature to set the state's minimum wage without political interference, is scheduled to meet Friday in San Francisco to decide whether to raise the minimum wage.
Two of the five commission members favor increasing the wage to $5.01 an hour, but they need the vote of one more commissioner to adopt such a proposal.
(The $5.01 figure was borrowed from the state workfare program, in which welfare recipients can be required to take a job, a commission spokeswoman said. Under workfare, $5.01 an hour is the minimum wage participants in the program can be forced to accept.)
If the commission does not raise the wage rate and the Legislature approves Torres' bill, Deukmejian would have the option of raising the minimum wage by signing the measure.
'A Moral Issue'
About 322,000 workers in the state receive the minimum wage and, under the measure, would receive a 90-cent pay raise beginning Jan. 1. Many thousands more, paid more than the minimum wage but less than $4.25 an hour, would also have their pay boosted to the minimum.
"Its a moral issue," Floyd told his colleagues. "It's an issue relating to the poorest-paid among our citizens."
The measure is opposed by most business groups in the state, including the California Chamber of Commerce and the California Manufacturers Assn.
Opponents argue that if the minimum wage is increased, employers would cut back on the number of jobs available, particularly for women, minorities and young people, who constitute the majority of minimum-wage workers.
They also contend that such a measure would make California less competitive by boosting the cost of some goods and services and by making the state less attractive to businesses that depend on cheap labor.
Labor union leaders and other supporters of the bill, however, argue that an increase in the minimum wage is long overdue. A minimum-wage worker who puts in a 40-hour week receives a gross weekly income of $134--too little, they say, to allow for a decent standard of living in California.
The federal minimum wage was raised on Jan. 1, 1981, to $3.35 an hour and has not been increased since President Reagan took office.
Both the Legislature and the commission have the power to set the state's minimum wage independent of action by the federal government, as long as the state's minimum wage is not lower than the national wage level.
Seven states have minimum wages higher than the federal minimum. Alaska has the highest rate with $3.85 an hour, followed by Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island with $3.65 an hour.
"What we're doing is carrying a bill for people who are totally unrepresented," Floyd said. "These are not union members. They have no lobbying group here."