SACRAMENTO — In a rare effort to move legislation more quickly, Gov. Jerry Brown endorsed a bill that would raise California's minimum wage to $10 an hour by January 2016.
The governor and labor union leaders said the increase is needed, given that the last hike — of 50 cents an hour to $8 — took effect at the start of 2008.
"The minimum wage has not kept pace with rising costs," the governor said in a statement Wednesday as lobbyists from both sides worked the 40 Senate members. "This legislation is overdue and will help families that are struggling in this harsh economy."
The bill, which must win final passage in the Legislature before a Friday recess, would raise the rate to $9 in July 2014 and $10 an hour 18 months later.
Employers, including retailers, fast-food franchisees and farmers, denounced the proposal as too much, too fast.
Brown typically has refused to disclose his views on pending legislation, so his statement is seen as a key signal that he wants the bill passed as soon as possible. Leaders of the Senate and the Assembly joined in his statement urging lawmakers to pass the bill.
With the backing of Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Assembly Speaker John. A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles), Capitol watchers said, the bill should get to the governor's desk and be signed into law by mid-month.
"I feel very confident we have the momentum to get this out," said Assemblyman Luis Alejo (D-Watsonville), who sponsored the bill.
"I don't know how it doesn't get passed," said Allan Zaremberg, president of the California Chamber of Commerce.
Employers, Zaremberg said, have been willing to consider a minimum wage increase but "a 25% increase in a two-year period for small business is probably more than they can handle."
The battle in Sacramento reflects the growing unrest among entry-level workers at companies they believe have the resources to provide higher pay.
Throughout the nation, fast-food and retail workers have been particularly vocal in the last month, saying they can't make a living working 40 hours a week at minimum wages. And many can't even get 40 hours of work.
Anthony Goytia, 31, of La Puente earns $9.50 an hour during his overnight shift stocking Wal-Mart freezers and coolers with ice cream, pizzas and TV meals. But at less than full time, he brings home just $500 every two weeks.
"I might look like I get paid close to $10 an hour, but my hours are always cut because Wal-Mart is trying to keep me a part-timer," he said. "I literally live paycheck to paycheck. It's not nearly enough to support my family."
Goytia relies on food stamps and Medi-Cal to support his wife and three children on his pay.
Wal-Mart cashier Martha Sellers, 55, makes $13 an hour, but for all practical purposes, she's earning a minimum-wage paycheck because the company allows her to work only 22 to 28 hours a week.
"It's horrible. I am delinquent on everything," the Bellflower resident said. "Because I don't work a full 40-hour week, I can't pay any of my bills."
Still, she said, the policy change "might help people working full time at McDonald's."
Hundreds of fast-food workers around the country walked off the job Aug. 29 in a one-day protest to raise support for minimum wages of $15 an hour.
The AFL-CIO, which wound up its annual convention Wednesday in Los Angeles, said the protests reflected a national campaign to increase pay for minimum-wage workers, including janitors, security guards and food and hospitality employees.
The federal minimum wage is $7.25, and U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez told the union convention that he would work to raise the level. "Nobody who works 40 hours a week should have to live in poverty," he told union members.
"Raising the minimum wage isn't just an economic necessity. It's a moral imperative," said Art Pulaski, secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation. "California's minimum wage has languished at $8 an hour even as neighboring states have increased the minimum wage."
Employers countered that a substantial jump in the minimum wage could be disastrous for small businesses, particularly the state's 87,000 restaurants.
"This is an unprecedented rate hike," said Jot Condie, president of the California Restaurant Assn.
The proposed increase, he said, couldn't come at a worse time as business owners cope with the recession's aftereffects, the start of the Affordable Care Act health insurance program and the prospect of rising workers' compensation and unemployment insurance costs.
"This is so high and happening in a short period of time when there are so many uncertainties looming," Condie said.
Increasing minimum wages could hurt the very people they are supposed to help and curtail smaller companies especially from creating the jobs in the first place, said Steve Caldeira, president of the International Franchise Assn. in Washington, D.C.
"Increasing the minimum wage will not increase opportunities for these younger entry-level workers, but rather make it harder for employers to offer these positions by driving up payroll and labor costs," he said.
California currently has the eighth-highest minimum wage. Washington state has the highest at $9.19, followed by Oregon at $8.95, Vermont at $8.60 and Nevada, Connecticut, the District of Columbia and Illinois at $8.25 each.
Only 19 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws setting their local minimum wage above the federal level of $7.25.