SAN FRANCISCO — A state commission voted narrowly today to raise California's minimum wage to $4.25 an hour, a 90-cent hourly increase that drew loud cheers and shouts of "Bravo!" from laborers who packed a hearing room.
The California Industrial Welfare Commission voted 3 to 2 to hike the minimum wage by 25 cents an hour over the $4 level it had given preliminary approval three months ago.
The increase--the first in California since 1981, when the federal government raised the minimum wage nationally--gives the state the highest minimum wage in the country.
"Thank God, aye!" exclaimed Commissioner David C. Padilla, responding to a roll call with the vote that clinched passage of the measure. More than 200 people rose and applauded enthusiastically.
The panel said the increase will go into effect as soon as possible and no later than next July.
The IWC also voted 3 to 2 to establish a "subminimum" wage of $3.50 an hour for workers who earn more than $60 a month in tips, over the objections of a commissioner who said the measure will discriminate against waiters and waitresses.
The panel also decided full-time students over the age of 21 will qualify for the $4.25-an-hour minimum.
Muriel M. Morse, 73, of Altadena, long regarded as the key vote on the issue, provided the margin of victory for the increased wage.
All Deukmejian Appointees
The two employer representatives, James T. Rude and Lynnel Pollock, voted against the increase. The two labor representatives, Padilla and Michael Callahan, voted for it. All five members were appointed by Gov. George Deukmejian.
Two years ago the commission calculated that for the minimum to keep up with the cost of living, it should rise to $5.01. However, the commission took no action then.
Shocked by the recent $4 proposal, a number of large religious and labor organizations quickly formed a Coalition for a Fair Minimum Wage that bused large crowds to rallies shouting "Five-oh-one!"
About 600,000 Californians are paid minimum wages. A full-time worker at the minimum earns less than $7,000 annually, which is only 77% of the poverty level for a family of three and only 60% for a family of four.
Opponents See Harm
Opponents of a boost in the minimum, such as the California Restaurant Assn., argued at the hearings that an increase would injure small business. They said a higher minimum would discourage employers from hiring low-skilled workers and would force employers to lay off employees.
A bill to raise the minimum wage to $4.25 was passed by the Legislature earlier this year but was vetoed by Deukmejian, who said the commission should determine the amount. The Legislature could supersede the commission's vote only by overriding a Deukmejian veto, and supporters of a higher level have said they do not have the necessary two-thirds votes.
Labor officials have vowed to challenge legally any subminimum wage established by the commission.