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Labor Unions And Lawmakers In California Agree On Minimum Wage Increase

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

California is about to become the first state with a minimum wage of $15 an hour. The governor has struck a deal with labor unions over the objections of business groups. Capital Public Radio's Ben Adler reports from Sacramento.

BEN ADLER, BYLINE: Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown hasn't been the biggest fan of minimum wage increases. When he signed the most recent one into law a few years back, he insisted on a slower phasing period and blocked an automatic cost-of-living increase.

And earlier this year, he raised concerns over the high cost to the state budget. But in announcing this latest deal today at the state capital, Brown called it a special occasion.

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JERRY BROWN: It's a matter of economic justice, it makes sense, and will help our entire state do much better for its citizens.

ADLER: Republicans and business groups quickly criticized the deal. Assembly GOP Leader Chad Mayes has made fighting California's high poverty rate a top priority. He says $15 an hour might make sense in San Francisco but would hurt businesses and employees in less prosperous parts of the state.

CHAD MAYES: The reason people are even talking about increasing the minimum wage is because things cost too dang much here in California. Until we fix the root cause, which is the policies that we've put in place here in this building, we're not going to solve the problem.

ADLER: California's minimum wage is currently $10 an hour. The agreement would gradually raise it to $15 by 2022 with an extra year for smaller businesses. Then there would be automatic increases with inflation. Democratic State Senate Leader Kevin de Leon calls the deal ambitious but smart.

KEVIN DE LEON: The reason why I say smart is because we have exit off-ramps in the event that the economy slows down dramatically, employment shoots up high. We have some very prudent mechanisms to slow it down so we don't hurt businesses.

ADLER: Unions pushing for a November ballot measure with faster increases and no off-ramps say they'll stand down if this deal is approved. That's why the governor suggested business groups would be cutting their own throat if they lobbied against it.

Even though he's a Democrat, Brown has often sided with business groups in recent years against what Republican political consultant Beth Miller calls a very liberal California legislature.

BETH MILLER: Now having said that, he has tried to move the needle on some things that the business community was not supportive of. But it's a different legislature right now given that there's a lot of moderate Democrats.

ADLER: Many of them elected with support from business groups. California may become the first state to pass a $15 minimum wage, but it might not be the first state to pay one. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called for a $15 minimum wage to take effect in 2019, three years before California.

For NPR News, I'm Ben Adler in Sacramento. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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