Business & Economy

Los Angeles takes steps to form new office to enforce rising minimum wage

John Reamer heads L.A.'s Bureau of Contract Administration
John Reamer heads L.A.'s Bureau of Contract Administration
Brian Watt/KPCC
John Reamer heads L.A.'s Bureau of Contract Administration
Alexandra Suh is director of the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance
Brian Watt/KPCC

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Los Angeles city officials have already begun creating a new office to enforce the city's new minimum wage ordinance, which will kick in in 2015. A City Council committee heard early details of the office Tuesday.

John Reamer, director of the city's Bureau of Contract Administration, proposed a name for the new department: The Office of Wage Standards.  Its three main tasks:

Reamer originally called for a staff of 39 employees to be hired over a four-year period, but on Tuesday, he asked the City Council's Entertainment and Facilities Committee to accelerate the hiring to a three-year period. 

"Based on anticipated workload as indicated by community-based organizations who are already preparing claims for filing on July 1, 2016," Reamer wrote to the committee, "some of the positions will be needed sooner than originally anticipated."  

Reamer also asked for additional funding to contract with community-based groups that can provide outreach to employees and employers.  The original request was about $750,000 per year over three years.  The updated request is $1 million per year.

"The City of Seattle's community outreach contract budget is $500,000 per year for a workforce one-fifth the size of Los Angeles'," Reamer wrote.

The office has already hired two employees and established a toll free number for the public: 1-844-WAGES-LA. 

Los Angeles has been dubbed the "wage theft capital of the U.S." because of its high rate of incidences of employers paying their workers less than they're owed or failing to pay overtime wages. The City Council voted to establish a wage enforcement office earlier this year, after voting nearly unanimously to raise the minimum wage gradually from the current $9 per hour to $15 per hour by 2020. The city's Bureau of Contract Administration then drafted a proposal in June, using similar offices in San Francisco and Seattle as models. 

This week more than 100 activists rallied near downtown L.A. to celebrate the signing of a new state law that will give the California Labor Commissioner more power to pursue employers who engage in wage theft. 

The state law is separate from Los Angeles' new office, but advocates for victims of wage theft believe they will compliment one another.  They also said community-based organizations will be crucial in helping to convince workers to file wage theft complaints. Many workers fear that filing complaints will result in being fired. 

"As wonderful as our state labor commissioner is, as hard as she’s working, she doesn’t have all of the resources and tools to effectively enforce our state labor laws," said Alexandra Suh of the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance. "That’s why need to step forward as a city of L.A... community partnerships are a cornerstone of effective enforcement."