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California Boosts Minimum Wage for Health Care and Fast-Food Workers

It’s Monday. California is raising minimum wages for health care workers and fast-food workers. Plus, striking actors and the Hollywood studios say they’re restarting negotiations.

For thousands of Californians, wages are going up.

Gov. Gavin Newsom recently approved two major pay bumps: One new law, signed this month, will raise the minimum wage for all health care workers in the state to $25 an hour by 2028. The other law increases minimum hourly pay for fast-food workers to $20 an hour, starting in April.

California’s current overall minimum wage, at $15.50, already exceeds that of any other state (the District of Columbia’s is higher) and will increase to $16 on Jan. 1. Californians will vote in November 2024 on whether to push it up even more, to $18 an hour.

The bills Newsom just signed add a new twist; they’re California’s first statewide minimums for specific economic sectors, according to Enrique Lopezlira, a labor economist at the U.C. Berkeley Labor Center.

Lopezlira said that the two new laws were a testament to the growing power and popularity of organized labor nationwide. Public support for unions among Americans hasn’t been this high in Gallup polls since the 1960s. In California, that has been evident through emerging unionization efforts as well as the enormous number of strikes we’ve seen statewide, including by Kaiser Permanente employees, dockworkers and Hollywood writers and actors.

“The pandemic just really highlighted for many workers how precarious their work is,” Lopezlira told me. “Workers at all levels of the wage distribution and all levels of the industry and occupation distribution are realizing that they want better working conditions.”

Lopezlira added: “A lot of these workers were deemed essential and then treated as sort of disposable by employers, so that’s also fueling some of these efforts.”

Health care workers in particular have faced tough conditions in recent years, and many are experiencing burnout while struggling to survive on low wages, Lopezlira said. He cowrote a paper that found that nearly half of the low-wage health care workers who would benefit from the new minimum wage increase were relying on safety-net programs like Medi-Cal and food stamps.

The industry-specific wage increases are part of a broader trend of piecemeal pay boosts for workers across the U.S. in recent years.

Frustrated that the federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009, city and county leaders have increasingly been passing their own wage ordinances. Before 2012, only five cities or counties in the nation had their own minimum wage laws; these days, 56 cities and counties do, according to data from the U.C. Berkeley Labor Center.

A majority of those municipalities are in California, probably because the high cost of living in some parts of the state, particularly along the coast, makes it difficult to make ends meet, Lopezlira told me.

The California city with the highest minimum wage is West Hollywood, at $19.08 an hour. Emeryville, Mountain View, Berkeley and San Francisco, which are all at roughly $18 an hour, round out the top five.


The rest of the news

  • Newsom begins a weeklong visit to China today in an effort to reinforce his state’s role as a global leader on climate change, The Associated Press reports.

  • The major entertainment studios and the union representing tens of thousands of striking actors are scheduled to return to the negotiating table tomorrow.

Southern California

  • George Gascón, the Los Angeles County district attorney, will face nine challengers in one of the largest primary fields in the city’s history, The Los Angeles Times reports.

Central California

  • A woman was struck in a hit-and-run after a heated argument between a driver of a pickup and a bicyclist near a pro-Palestine demonstration in northeast Fresno Saturday night, The Fresno Bee reports.

Northern California

  • Two unions reached an agreement with the San Francisco Unified School District, avoiding a strike that could have shuttered classes before the winter break, The San Francisco Examiner reports.


Where we’re traveling

Today’s tip comes from John Manville, who lives in Los Altos:

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected]. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.


Tell us

Today we’re asking about love: not whom you love but what you love about your corner of California.

Email us a love letter to your California city, neighborhood or region — or to the Golden State as a whole — and we may share it in an upcoming newsletter. You can reach the team at [email protected].


And before you go, some good news

The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library made history when it opened in August 2003 on San Jose State’s campus. Thought up over a breakfast between the mayor of San Jose and the university president, as legend has it, the project was said to be the first in the nation to integrate the services and collections of a major university and a major city’s public library system.

Twenty years later, the institution remains a vital public resource and a symbol of an important partnership.

Along with its wide collection of books, the library is also known for its troves of archival material on John Steinbeck and Ludwig van Beethoven, as well as for its artifacts related to the state’s history and for its frequent displays of community art shows.

In an anniversary celebration open to the public last month, the city and the university came together to celebrate the library and all it has given the region. In honor of the occasion, the San Jose Public Library released 10 new commemorative library card designs, each highlighting installations and artwork on display at the library.

Read more about the history and the anniversary celebration from The Mercury News.


Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.

Maia Coleman and Briana Scalia contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].

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