Tonight our city council will consider an ordinance that will increase the minimum wage in our city by 26% in just a six month period. Such a massive and abrupt increase would be a difficult challenge for most businesses in the best of times. And clearly, with all of the losses incurred and the issues still facing our businesses as a result of the pandemic it is far, very far in fact, from the best of times.
Several of our council members have proclaimed that this increase is a fundamental strategy for social justice. They are wrong. They either have no understanding of the core mission of social justice and/or they have simply co-opted the term to attach themselves to a movement that will drive their popularity or political careers.
There are four integrated principles of social justice: equity, access, participation and rights. To achieve the objectives of social justice, in simpler terms, we must aim to level the playing field and insure more open access to economic equality and success. This proposed minimum wage ordinance certainly does not meet the criteria of social justice. Rather, it is akin to putting a piece of tape over the puncture hole you found on your tire and proclaiming it to be fixed. It won’t take very long for the air to leak out of that tire.
This increase merely seeks to transfer income from the business owner who has invested time and money to establish a business and continue to operate. Think for a minute about what this means to the small business.
For Tara Punzone who came from New York to West Hollywood to open Pura Vita because she found a community that shared her social values and embraced her, the increase may mean having to cut hours or eliminate jobs among the staff that has become family. Or it may mean forfeiting her dream entirely when she can no longer afford this cost of labor increase added to the losses of the past two years and the increased costs of nearly everything resulting from the global supply chain crisis.
Raj Sannidhi came to West Hollywood to operate Capitol Drugs because he saw the need and the opportunity to provide very personalized service and guidance to a community facing the complexities of HIV/AIDS management. It was this chance to help people that first drove him to become a pharmacist. But with this increase his options to keep his doors open here become very limited. He cannot simply adjust prices to cover the increased labor costs because those prices are regulated by the insurance industry. So he has to decide whether to continue operations with very little, if any, profit or move his business outside our 1.9 square miles.
And what about the young LGBT kid or the minority owners with a creative new business concept that want to be a part of this city that they believe to hold values of acceptance and inclusiveness? How do you, with any moral backbone, convince them to choose West Hollywood to open their doors when the cost of labor here, now significantly higher than any of our surrounding areas, will pose a very real threat to their ability to survive even their first year in business. How does any of this fall under the umbrella of social justice? In fact, what this ordinance will do is limit access and opportunities for economic advancement and success and perhaps even worse, eliminate jobs in the process.
If our council really does want to make their mark in creating meaningful programs to achieve the objectives of social justice they need to focus on ideas that encourage small business, open up opportunities for minorities and the LGBT community, help the guy who has a great idea but lacks the experience or the capital to succeed on his own.
They need to create a community where business can thrive without the threat of crime and homelessness to keep customers away or threaten their team’s safety and security. And they don’t want to ignore the needs of our residents, more than 20% of whom live on fixed incomes and cannot afford the price increases that will be imposed on them if this huge wage increase goes into effect this quickly.