Category Archives: Minimum Wage

Case Study Reveals Downside of Minimum Wage Hikes

Los Angeles and California embarked on an unprecedented experiment this past year, when both voted to phase in a $15-minimum wage over a period of years. In L.A., the rate will reach $15 in 2020 for businesses with 26 employees or more and in 2021 for smaller businesses. In California, the $15 rate will be achieved in 2021, making it the highest state minimum wage in the nation.

Business concerns were minimized by both the City Council and the State legislature, who believed that adverse impacts would be minimal. There will be a lot of interest over the next few years to see whether businesses were playing “chicken little” in complaining about the anticipated impact to their businesses and if the economy can absorb these increases with minimal disruption.

While it may take a while to measure the impact of the general $15 minimum wage, there is a more immediate gauge that might indicate whether we need to worry. In 2014, a year prior to the wage vote that was applied to all businesses, the City Council approved a dramatic increase in the minimum wage for nonunion hotels with 300 rooms or more – raising the wage from $9 an hour to $15.37 an hour beginning in July 2015. For hotels with between 150 and 299 rooms, the increase was delayed a year to July 1, 2016. It was a jump of 70.7-percent all at once. This unprecedented increase affected only certain hotels and included all tipped and non-tipped employees.

In Hollywood, only the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel was impacted by the increase in 2015. So I thought it might be interesting to ask the hotel how it is coping with the minimum wage increase. I spoke with Brett Blass, the Chief Operating Officer (COO) for Journal Hotels, the hotel’s management company. Let me share with you what I learned.

Blass told me that the minimum wage increase has cost the hotel almost $3-million annually – a significant bite to its bottom line. Unlike some government entities, businesses must operate in the black if they are to survive, and so the hotel was forced to take action to cut costs.

Especially of concern to Blass is that the ordinance did not include hotels with which the Roosevelt competes for customers, eliminating a ‘fair and level playing field’ amongst the hotel competitive landscape. “It is impossible to fairly compete when operating a hotel bar, restaurant or the hotel itself when singled out by government wage mandates such as this,” he emphasized. “A hotel can’t just raise all prices, as pricing is marketplace driven.”

The hotel chose to close one of its three restaurants for lunch, Public Kitchen & Bar, resulting in the loss of 10 jobs. “Restaurant margins are not high to begin with,” Blass pointed out. “By increasing tipped wages so much, we found margins at an all-time low or in the red completely.”

Over time, between 30 and 40 full-time positions were eliminated, about 8- percent of the hotel’s total staff. (This job loss is in line with the experience of hotels in proximity to Los Angeles International Airport that were impacted by a similar City-imposed increase a few years before.) In addition, several planned new jobs were put on hold.

Besides this, numerous employees had their hours more closely scrutinized or cut – especially tipped workers in the restaurants. When the increase is applied to tipped workers, the overtime pay becomes astronomical for a business to pay. Overtime is calculated not just on the $15.37 an hour wage, but also on the tipped wages. With the new minimum wage and tips, waiters are earning between $60 and $70 an hour at the Roosevelt, according to Blass. Add in overtime at time-and-a half, and you get the picture. A business cannot afford to have an employee work more than eight hours and so time is reduced to ensure that an employee does not exceed that amount.

The minimum wage hike caused “bleed-up” to happen as well, according to Blass. The hotel had to raise their managers’ pay to keep them above the minimum wage employees.

“We had planned greater annual raises for many of the non-tipped work force,” reflected Blass, “but had to stick to the minimum wage increase only because of the massive and immediate increase to the tipped wage. About 35-percent of the total hotel staff are tipped, so those folks taking home tips every day got the biggest minimum wage lift.”

He also noted that the hotel just completed $22-million in guest room renovations, which would probably have been considered differently had the annual wage increase been known at the time of construction planning.

So, there you have it – a case study showing the actual impact of a minimum wage hike. Now, I’m sure the hotel employees who received increases were very happy, but I wonder what happened to the 8-percent who lost their jobs? Perhaps they found employment at other hotels covered by the wage hike, but if the cutbacks experienced at the Roosevelt are an indication, I doubt it.

I realize that there is a difference between a one-time wage-jump of 70.7-percent versus a phased-in increase, but there is still a lot of good information we can glean from this case study. There are important questions that experts should analyze, such as how many new jobs will not be created by businesses coping with their increased overhead costs, and how much investment in their businesses will not occur since the money is not there. Such investment would create other jobs within the economy that now might not happen.

I wonder how much prices are going to rise over the next few years as the wage hikes work their way through the economy, and how much this is going to cost all of us. I wonder how many employees are going to lose their jobs and what efficiencies businesses will implement to reduce their overhead.

As we stated at the hearings, no one was arguing that an increase in the minimum wage was not warranted. However, based on the Roosevelt experience, I believe more caution and restraint would have been the wiser course. Now we wait to see how this plays out, and hope for the best.

Leron Gubler has been serving as the President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for the past 24 years. His tenure since 1992 continues to oversee the great comeback story of Hollywood

A Jobs Strategy for L.A.?

With all of the recent attention by the City on raising the minimum wage, very little of the rhetoric was devoted to the real need in Los Angeles … to increase the number of middle-class jobs. People need to have an opportunity to move up the jobs ladder in order to truly improve their quality of life. A minimum wage increase does not accomplish that.

So how is Los Angeles doing on the jobs front? The UCLA Anderson Forecast released their latest report in early June. The report revealed that the L.A. metro area has seen brisk growth of 2.5 percent in each of the past two years, which finally allowed L.A.’s employment to surpass its pre-Great Recession level of more than seven years ago.

However, William Yu, an economist with the Anderson Forecast, pointed out that even with that growth, L.A. only increased its payroll jobs by 2 percent between 1990 and 2015. By contrast, the U.S. increased payroll jobs by 29 percent during that period and California created 28 percent more jobs. And other areas of Los Angeles County also increased their employment at a substantially higher rate than L.A. City. Yu called L.A. an “economic basket case”, lagging far behind the national norm. He noted that the only other major cities in the nation with similar weak job-creation records are Detroit and Cleveland.

The California Center for Jobs & the Economy, in May issued a report entitled “Economic Tale of Two Regions: Los Angeles vs. Bay Area”, where they stated, “Los Angeles presents a trend largely of jobs stagnation under which middle class wage jobs have been steadily replaced by lower wage service jobs.”

So, I would ask the question, “Besides raising the minimum wage, what exactly is the jobs strategy for Los Angeles?”

The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors met in June with Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Kelli Bernard, who detailed some of the Mayor’s jobs-related achievements. To be sure, Mayor Garcetti deserves credit for some of the growth of the past two years. He fought hard to get AB1839 adopted, which ramps up film tax credits to bring production jobs back to California and Los Angeles. We expect to see a positive jobs impact from that. He was also successful in luring Yahoo from Santa Monica to Playa Vista. And the Mayor has identified some sectors with job creation potential and set some goals such as creating 20,000 green jobs by mid-2017.

These are all great steps, but they do not answer the question of why there is no overall jobs strategy to put Los Angeles on a long-term road to matching the growth of other major metropolitan regions, the State and nation. If the City really wants to get serious about our poor jobs record, then there needs to be a comprehensive plan.

This week, in what is a step in the right direction, Council President Herb Wesson announced that he is creating an ad hoc committee on a comprehensive jobs plan. I applaud the Council President on taking this action. Let’s hope the committee takes a serious look at exactly why jobs are not being created in this City at the same pace as elsewhere. There is a lot of information for them to review.

Mr. Yu gave his assessment of what is holding Los Angeles back – a less friendly environment for business, low human capital (meaning a poorly educated workforce) and the high cost of living.

In reviewing his findings, I would point out that San Francisco has a much higher cost of living and is still creating jobs. We do indeed need to improve our educational system, but there are other cities with similar challenges that are creating jobs. I believe that the major factor holding L.A. back is its reputation as a less than friendly place in which to operate a business.

There is a feeling in the business community that we are constantly “under siege” in this City. Last year, it was the huge jump in the minimum wage for hotels with over 150 rooms. This year, the City approved an across-the-board minimum wage hike over the next five years to $15 an hour. We had to fight to get concessions for small businesses faced with a 67 percent increase in minimum wages. After our lobbying, the City Council offered a “token” concession of one extra year for only the smallest businesses with under 25 employees. Now the City Council is considering an ordinance to allow street vendors to compete with brick-and-mortar businesses and to require businesses to offer more sick leave. Where does it end?

Perhaps the elephant in the room when it comes to L.A.’s lack of job competitiveness is the onerous Gross Receipts Tax. Los Angeles has the highest business tax by a factor of 9.5 times the average for the other 87 cities in the County. The only way we can compete is when the City does a “carve-out” for certain sectors that the Council wants to attract here, such as they did last year for internet businesses.

Stories are numerous of businesses that have fled Los Angeles to escape from this job-killing tax. Here in Hollywood, we are still hurting from the loss of Legal Zoom, which moved to nearby Glendale with more than 300 middle-class jobs, when the City’s Finance Department decided to raise them to the highest tax rate imposed by the Gross Receipts tax.

There have been numerous calls to do away with this tax, including by Mayor Garcetti. Last year, the City Council did make a small concession by voting to reduce the tax by 5 percent in each of the next three years. To be perfectly honest, from a job-creation standpoint, that was not enough to move the needle one iota.

If the City Council is serious about creating jobs, they need to at least reduce this tax to the countywide average. Imagine what would happen if L.A.’s business tax were not 9.5 times higher than the County average? We might then be able to compete for new jobs. Give businesses some hope and they just might decide to expand here and hire more employees.

That would be the foundation of a jobs creation strategy. L.A. is the second largest city in the nation. We have numerous natural advantages. The business sector knows that we can compete if we have a level playing field. We can provide the middle-class jobs that this economy needs if the City acts decisively. We should not be in the cellar with Detroit and Cleveland. Hopefully, the ad hoc committee will come up with some realistic recommendations that the City Council will adopt.


Leron Gubler has been serving as the President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for the past 23 years. His tenure since 1992 continues to oversee the great comeback story of Hollywood.

City Approved Wage Hike is Bad News for Small Businesses

The Los Angeles City Council has voted to move forward on drafting a minimum wage ordinance that will raise wages by 67 percent over the next five years.

The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce participated through the entire process of debate on the issue and said that we could support a hike in the minimum wage – provided steps were taken to protect small businesses and to make the City more competitive in job creation.

Unfortunately, the carve-out approved by the City Council was so woefully small that only the smallest of businesses will receive any help – and only for one additional year.

The City set the threshold for a small business as one with 25 or fewer employees. By comparison, Seattle, in crafting their own minimum wage hike, used the same definition of a small business as the federal guidelines – 500 or fewer employees. And they gave small businesses an extra four years to meet the same requirement as large businesses.

The Los Angeles Times quotes Councilman Gil Cedillo as saying of the City Council action, “This is the greatest shift of wealth in the history of this city.”

At least he admitted what we have known all along. This is not new money flowing into the City. The “wealth being shifted” will be taken from the pockets of businesses. The justification cited by supporters was the City-commissioned Berkeley study that promised minimal impacts on businesses. We will now have the opportunity to find out if the Berkeley study is right when it said, “For retail trade and the local economy as a whole, price increases would be negligible.” Personally, I have my doubts.

Firms will adjust their business model according to how much additional money they will have to put into payroll. Small businesses will spend less on upgrades, equipment and other investments in their operations. They will either reduce the number of employees or cut back their hours. They will be reluctant to add new employees. Businesses operating on the margin will either close or move out of the City.

What the Council did not consider is that businesses cannot operate at a loss. According to the financial research firm Sageworks, net profit margins for restaurants for example averaged about 3 percent in 2013. In many of these restaurants, payroll accounts for 50 to 60 percent of their expenses. How does the City expect these restaurants to cope with a 67 percent increase in the minimum wage?

Job growth in L.A. will suffer. Beacon Economics has projected that the wage increase “will reduce job growth from an expected 1.8 percent per year for the next five years to less than half that and potentially eliminate growth altogether. In other words, expected job growth would go from 30,000 jobs per year to somewhere between 2,000 to 15,000 jobs.” Los Angeles has one of the worst job creation records of any major city in the nation, according to a study released last year by the UCLA Anderson School of Management. The City Council seems to have ignored this fact in making their decision.

There has never been an increase in wages of this magnitude over this short period of time in Los Angeles. Even the consultants that did the peer review study for the City advised that they not go beyond the $13.25 per hour wage base recommended by the Mayor, and to evaluate implementation impacts before increasing it further. They said that at the higher rate (of up to $15), the metrics used to assess minimum wage increases are above historic standards. They continued that the uncertainty as to the effects is largest over the longer term, when workers and firms have fully adjusted to the wage and capital-labor and labor-labor substitutions have been made. The reviewers urged the City to provide delayed phase-in that may mitigate against the most serious potential impacts for ‘high sensitivity’ businesses such as small firms and nonprofits.

The City Council ignored that wise counsel and has approved this experiment. While we can certainly voice our concerns one final time when the ordinance comes back to Council for final approval, the decision for all practical purposes has been made.

The State minimum wage will rise another dollar to $10 an hour next January. The new City hike will go into effect six months later, in July of 2016 – starting at $10.50 an hour and rising to $15 an hour in 2020. Thereafter, it will automatically increase annually based on the Consumer Price Index. Your Chamber will be monitoring and reporting impacts of the City action. We would invite all Hollywood businesses to share with us how the minimum wage hike impacts your business and steps that you will take as a result. We’re going to keep tally and share the results with the City Council.


Leron Gubler has been serving as the President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for the past 23 years. His tenure since 1992 continues to oversee the great comeback story of Hollywood.

Wage Mandate Puts Jobs on the Line

For months now, the writers of the UC Berkeley policy briefs on the potential impact of a minimum wage hike in Los Angeles have been saying that a proposed 66 percent increase in the minimum wage will have a negligible impact on jobs.

Data now beginning to trickle out from our neighbors to the north – San Francisco and Oakland – should be raising alarm bells here in Los Angeles. Those cities approved wage mandates of $15 an hour and $12.25 an hour just last fall.

A commentary that appeared in the Wall Street Journal last week entitled “The Unappetizing Effect of Minimum-Wage Hikes” reported that in San Francisco and Oakland, restaurants are closing. The Abbot’s Cellar, rated as one of San Francisco’s top 100 restaurants, closed with the owners saying that they had no way to absorb the added costs. A popular vegetarian restaurant, named The Source, closed citing the higher minimum wage. Borderlands Books, a renowned bookstore, was only able to remain open, when customers put on a fundraiser to counter its added costs. In nearby Oakland, 10 restaurants and grocery stores decided to permanently close as a partial consequence of the wage hike.

The commentary reported that Ken Jacobs, one of the authors of the UC Berkeley study, responded to the negative reports by explaining that they were just labor-market “churn”.

I wrote last week that this same Berkeley study has predicted that there will be a net gain of 3,666 jobs by 2017 and 5,262 jobs by 2019 because of the “multiplier” effect of minimum wage workers having more money to spend.

However, Beacon Economics has predicted that the minimum wage increase would have a chilling impact on the creation of jobs by businesses. The Beacon report says that if the plan is put into place “it will reduce job growth in the City from an expected 1.8 percent per year for the next five years to less than half that and potentially eliminate growth altogether. In other words, expected job growth would go from 30,000 jobs per year to somewhere between 2,000 to 15,000 jobs.”

Michael Saltsman, the author of the Wall Street Journal story, concluded by saying “It’s probably too late to save other Oakland and San Francisco businesses. But it’s not too late for cities like New York and Los Angeles to heed the evidence before following their footsteps.”

The final hearing being conducted by the City’s Economic Development Committee on the proposed wage hikes will take place tomorrow evening (Thursday) at the Museum of Tolerance, 9786 Pico Avenue, at 6 p.m. We urge our members to show up and express your concerns about the current proposal.

The Hollywood Chamber has called on the City to take steps to protect our small businesses and nonprofit agencies. At a minimum, any increases for these businesses/agencies must be spread over a longer period of time in smaller increments. Let them know that you agree with our recommendation and that the future of your businesses is on the line.


Leron Gubler has been serving as the President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for the past 22 years. His tenure since 1992 continues to oversee the great comeback story of Hollywood.

Putting the Spin on the Minimum Wage Increase

Let’s assume you were trying to secure passage of a major tax increase.  You would want to verbally minimize the effect of the increase in order to head off opposition.

That is exactly what proponents of the proposed minimum wage increase in Los Angeles are doing.  Two hearings have already occurred where they have turned out large numbers and offered information that paints an incomplete picture. (We have a chance to correct that at the remaining two hearings detailed at the bottom of this blog!)

Proponents have ignored the wage increase that has already occurred, which conveniently makes the impact of the current proposal seem less.  As you may recall, the State of California raised the minimum wage from $8 to $9, just last year.  Although proponents may accurately say that they weren’t responsible for that increase, it still needs to be taken into consideration when you discuss what the current proposal would do to businesses.

The fact is that over a four-year period, businesses will be asked to absorb a whopping 66 percent increase in the minimum wage.  And that doesn’t even consider the ancillary costs tied to the wage rate that will be triggered by an increase, including additional Social Security, Workers Comp insurance rates, unemployment insurance fees, etc.

The City hired a consultant who has put a positive “spin” on the impacts.  That is what we have seen in the two studies performed by the Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics from UC Berkeley.  In their most recent report, just released last week, they “estimate that firms’ operating costs will increase by only 0.5 percent by 2017 and 0.9 percent by 2019 as a result of the proposed law.”  They go on to say that these are cumulative estimates and will be spread out over several years, thereby implying that this increase can be implemented virtually pain free.

But think about it for a moment … how can the minimum wage rise by 66 percent with only a .5 percent increase in operating costs?  That just begs believability. The only way such a conclusion can be drawn is to throw into the calculations all of the businesses in Los Angeles and all of the jobs that are already paying above the minimum wage.

The 0.5 percent figure is therefore virtually meaningless, because it is not measuring the effect on the businesses with large numbers of minimum wage workers.

The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce has just completed a study of our members, asking how the proposed increase will impact their individual businesses.  The majority of our members are small businesses, and I believe the results of our study are a much more accurate measure of the effect of the proposed increases.

A total of 35 percent of our members, mostly small businesses, believe that the proposed increase will affect their operations negatively.  These are businesses that actually employ minimum wage workers.  They estimate that their total operating costs will increase by 21 percent and that their profit margins will decline by about 9 percent.

That 9 percent decline in profits is significant because for many businesses that may be the margin between profitability and operating in the red.  Fifty-five percent of our impacted members tell us that they anticipate having to either reduce employee hours or lay off employees to compensate for the increase. Another 25 percent believe the proposed wage increase may force them to close their businesses.

However, the Berkeley study estimates that we will actually see an increase in jobs, because minimum wage workers are expected to spend most of their increased earnings.  Due to the multiplier effect, they are projecting a net gain of 3,666 jobs by 2017 and 5,262 by 2019, thereby countering any losses at existing businesses.

Is this a realistic scenario?  I don’t think so.  Data is beginning to emerge in cities that have already adopted increased minimum wages that would cast doubt on that assessment.  In my next blog, I will share with you some of that information.

In the meantime, let me encourage you to attend the last two community hearings that the City is conducting next week.  If you believe your business will be negatively impacted, you must attend and share your experiences if we are to have any chance of getting some sort of relief for small businesses and non-profit organizations incorporated in the final version that is passed.   The two hearings will both be at 6 p.m. They are at:

Van Nuys City Hall, 14410 Sylvan Street, Tuesday, March 31
Museum of Tolerance, 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Thursday, April 2


Leron Gubler has been serving as the President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for the past 22 years. His tenure since 1992 continues to oversee the great comeback story of Hollywood.

The City Needs to Listen to Small Businesses

Over the past month, members of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce have been pounding the pavement at City Hall, making our case as to why the City needs to give a break to small businesses with the proposed minimum wage increase.

The current proposal would raise the minimum wage from the current $9 to $13.25 an hour by 2017.  This would be achieved through $1.25 increases per year. Some councilmembers have even suggested an additional increase to $15.25 by 2019.

What has impressed me as we have made the rounds at City Hall is the compelling information that our small businesses have shared with City officials.  Let me share some of the insights that I have gained.

When a City raises the costs of doing business, it forces the business to compensate by reducing costs elsewhere.  That means businesses will not expand, fewer jobs will be available, employees’ hours will be cut, summer jobs for students will decrease, and businesses will make do with fewer employees.  That is hardly a recipe for job creation in the nation’s second largest city – which still has fewer jobs today than it did 25 years ago.

One of the industries that will be hardest hit by the minimum wage hike is restaurants.  The L.A. Times recently quoted data that the net profit margin for restaurants averages 3 percent, compared with a nearly 6.3 percent profit margin for all private industries across the country.  … which means that restaurants have a lesser ability to absorb these mandated increases.

Our restaurateurs say that payroll represents between 40 and 60 percent of their overall costs.  They scoff at the City-commissioned Berkeley study’s claim that they will only have to raise their prices by a cumulative 4.1 percent by 2017 in order to cover the minimum wage hike.

One restaurateur said that ancillary costs tied to wages such as Social Security, unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation premiums would add roughly 30 percent to the cost of the 47 percent increase proposed by the City. In addition, they would have to pay increased costs for their restaurant supplies as other vendors within the City raise their prices to also compensate for the wage increase.  He estimated that prices would need to be raised by up to 35 percent to fully recover the added payroll costs.  However, restaurants’ customers are highly price sensitive, which would limit a restaurant’s ability to raise prices significantly.

One retailer explained that the added payroll costs may push them over the brink. They are unable to hike their prices to compensate for the increased costs of the wage mandate, because of internet competition.  If they raise prices, they will lose customers.

A nonprofit organization detailed how they compete for statewide grants.  As they factor in the costs of the hike in the minimum wage, it will place them at a competitive disadvantage with nonprofits from other areas of the state and likely cause them to lose grants and jobs.  They anticipate having to cut their student jobs and hours by 40 percent.

The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce recognizes the need for an increase in the minimum wage and we have offered qualified support if the City takes steps to protect its small businesses.  Of course, the best solution would be for the City to offer an exemption for small businesses below an established threshold of employees. This would be the right step to preserve jobs and small businesses.

If that is not achievable, then the City of Seattle offers a model where they increased the minimum wage for small businesses at the reduced level of 50 cents annually.  An increase of that order, as compared to the $1.25 a year increase now proposed, would be easier for small businesses to absorb.

The City’s justification for raising the wage is to get people out of poverty.  What they have missed in all of this is that the businesses they would hurt the most are the ones that create the most new jobs.  These small businesses hire unskilled and untrained workers.  They train these employees and give them an opportunity to join the workforce and to move up the ladder as they acquire skills.  The proposed wage increase could hurt the very people the City wishes to assist.

Our message to the City Council is not to “kill the goose that lays the golden egg.”  Do the right thing and take steps to protect the small businesses that do so much for our economy.


Leron Gubler has been serving as the President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for the past 22 years. His tenure since 1992 continues to oversee the great comeback story of Hollywood.