With just more than a month to go before a $15 minimum wage goes into effect, all while the novel coronvirus wreaks havoc on the nation’s economy, those who would benefit most from the increase want to make sure the Pasadena City Council doesn’t change its mind.

“In times of pandemic, you need more resources in the pockets of working people so they can live and feed their families,” said National Day Laborers Organizing Network Director Pablo Alvarado. “The City Council committed to raise the minimum wage by July 1. That is the commitment they made and that is the commitment that we expect them to honor, especially in times of pandemic.”

The council unanimously passed the city’s 2016 minimum wage ordinance after similar measures passed in both Los Angeles County and the city of LA. The ordinance would raise the minimum wage to $15 for businesses with 26 or more employees on July 1 while smaller businesses with 25 or less employees will have to pay their employees a minimum of $14.25.

“We recognize that [businesses are] getting hammered by this pandemic [with] the loss of business and the forced closures,” said Mayor Terry Tornek. “But for me, I think rolling back the minimum wage is not something that we should do.”

The ordinance sparked controversy in 2016 among many local businesses, which has only grown amidst the economic crash caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s killing them,” Pasadena Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Paul Little said about the effect the pandemic has had on local buisinesses. “Almost every business in Pasadena has been impacted one way or another.”

Little and the chamber represent the many local businesses that are asking the City Council to reconsider the minimum wage raise and transfer to the state’s minimum wage schedule, which delays the raise to $15 until 2022. 

“There will be even fewer jobs available for minimum-wage workers and it may put some people out of business,” Little said. “At this point, it’s difficult to predict what may put somebody out of business, since it’s a whole host of things. At this point, the last thing that we need to be doing, if we’re at all concerned about the economy, jobs, businesses and the community, is adding costs anywhere.”

Little, a former Pasdena council member, knows that the virus has affected everyone, not just businesses, but also the workers. However, he believes this is not the right time to implement the minimum wage raise.

“I know Pablo and I know all those guys. They’re not evil. They have a point,” he said. “In a world where there was no lack of funds, fine. But at this point, in this world right now, that’s not the case.”

Alvarado shares the same sentiments as Little but still believes that the needs of the lowest wage workers outweigh the needs of the businesses.

“We understand that the pandemic has affected everyone,” Alvarado said. “We are sensitive toward the needs of the restaurant and business owners. We want businesses to flourish. No one is saying that they’re not affected. The question is who’s more affected? [Is it] the restaurant owner or the dishwasher? I can tell you for sure that it is the dishwasher.”

Alvarado believes that the burden of the crisis should fall on the businesses, with the assistance from the local government.

“The city has done a number of things,” said Tornek. “We’ve done that $11 million plus rebate to businesses from the [Utility Underground Surtax]. We did a ‘no eviction’ for commercial tenants. We implemented the Great Plates program which pays a lot of money to restaurants to provide meals to seniors… There’s a lot of stuff that we’re doing to help businesses.”

Tornek continued listing the numerous programs that the city has implemented to try to help businesses during this crisis but realizes that owners still fear their business will close.

“I think those fears are 100 percent justified and that’s why I just went through that laundry list of things that we’ve been trying to do be of value. The fear is very real and very tangible,” said Tornek.

Reflecting on his past as a small business owner, Tornek understands the predicament facing many of these businesses.

“It’s been alleged by some that because I’m not willing to support rolling back or pausing the minimum wage bump… that I’m not appreciating the gravity,” said Tornek. “In various times in my career, I’ve run a small business… [I’ve] had to worry about how to meet payroll and if I was going to have the money to keep the thing going. I’m absolutely sympathetic and empathetic. I just don’t think we can, in this particular instance, do it at the expense of the people who earn the least.”