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California and the West

State's Minimum Wage to Increase to $6.75 by 2002

Labor: Commission votes two 50-cent hikes, one Jan. 1 and the second a year later, giving California one of nation's highest rates.


SACRAMENTO — More than a million workers who earn the state minimum wage or close to it will see their pay jump at least $1 to $6.75 an hour by 2002, making California's one of the highest minimum wage rates in the nation.

The state's Industrial Welfare Commission voted 5 to 0 on Monday to approve two 50-cent raises. One will take effect Jan. 1 and the other a year later.

The pay boost did little, however, to resolve the battle between business and organized labor over how much a minimum wage worker in California should earn.

Labor advocates, who had sought a new minimum of $8 an hour, vowed to return to Sacramento to seek additional increases.

"We wanted more and we believe our workers deserve more," California AFL-CIO President Tom Rankin said. "We'll be back in a year."

"I would have preferred for it to go higher or for it to go for a third year," said Barry Broad, a labor representative appointed to the five-member Industrial Welfare Commission by Gov. Gray Davis.

Davis applauded the commission's action in a written statement Monday, noting that it will allow California's lowest-paid workers to share in the state's prosperity.

Davis aides previously denied that the governor was seeking the increase. Commissioner Doug Bosco said Monday that he had worked with Davis' staff on the proposal but that it was left to the panel to determine the raise amount.

"They were helpful on this," Bosco said of Davis' staff.

The pay hike was opposed by business interests and members of the state's agricultural community.

Wine grape grower John Baranek of Sacramento spoke against the wage boost at Monday's hearing. Baranek noted that some sectors of state agriculture are in a depression and that the rise in the minimum wage will have a negative ripple effect, particularly in the Central Valley.

"Basically, we're in a position where our backs are against the wall," Baranek said.

Baranek's sentiments were echoed by John Dunlap, president of the California Restaurant Assn., which claims 15,000 members. Dunlap said he was disappointed with the wage boost, which he said will cut into the already slim profits earned by many restaurant owners.

"It will push many members to the end of their ropes," Dunlap said.

A full-time minimum wage earner now makes $11,900 a year. The new rate is expected to add just over $2,000 to that annual pay by 2002.

California will join Washington, Oregon and Massachusetts as the states with the highest minimum wage rates.

In a related matter, the commission voted to eliminate exemptions for several groups of workers, including full-time carnival ride operators and professional actors not covered by the state's minimum wage law.

The commission voted 3 to 2 to leave intact an exemption for the about 400 to 1,000 shepherds who tend sheep in California. The commission voted to establish a panel during its next hearing to determine the number of hours that shepherds work, how much money their employers spend housing and feeding them, and how the new minimum wage should be applied to them.

Advocates for the shepherds say that because of the exemption, ranchers can require them to work around the clock with no days off for a monthly wage of about $900, in addition to room and board.

Bosco said establishing a wage board is a way to change the shepherds' salary and working conditions in a manner that will fend off legal challenges.

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