SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Alor Calderon stood in the City Heights office that served as the local headquarters for the Fight for 15, reflecting on the 2015 push to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
"They thought it was pie in the sky and here we are," he said Friday.
The movement paid off in 2016 when former Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, taking effect in 2022.
Starting New Years Day, all San Diego employers -- and California employers with more than 25 workers -- must pay at least $15 for each hour worked.
"For a long time, employers had the upper hand. Things are swinging the other direction," said Calderon, director of the Employee Rights Center.
When Brown signed the bill, many employment groups argued a $15 minimum wage would kill jobs and raise prices.
COVID changed everything. In an ironic twist, the minimum wage is hitting the milestone rate at a time workers en masse are turning down jobs that pay that little.
"To everybody out there looking for a job, you don't need to accept 15 an hour," said Phil Blair, CEO of Manpower Staffing.
"You can get $16, $17, $18. And if they won't pay it, go to the next store, or the next restaurant or the next bar."
Blair said the pandemic led to fewer workers in the job market. Now, those who want work can be selective.
"Supply and demand allows those of you who have gone to work to ask for more money. And employers like me, either we pay it or go with the job unfilled," he said.
Statewide, the minimum wage will increase to $15 an hour for all employers on Jan. 1, 2023.
A Los Angeles investor is also beginning a campaign to put an $18 minimum wage initiative on the 2022 ballot.