OAKLAND -- Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Wednesday a bill making California's minimum wage the highest in the country -- a needed step, he said, toward addressing the growing gap between rich and poor.
"The social fabric is being ripped apart," Brown told supporters at an Oakland job training center. "Today we sew that fabric just a little tighter together."
The law, which passed with strong majorities in the Democratic-controlled Legislature, will increase the minimum wage from $8 an hour to $9 next July and $10 by January 2016.
Brown said it will provide raises for more than 1 million workers and put more than $2 million into the pockets of the state's neediest residents "Nothing could be simpler, clearer or more moral than this," he said.
Labor leaders had championed the bill as part of a national campaign to aid the working poor, while business advocates branded it a "job killer" and warned that a 25 percent wage increase for the state's lowest-paid workers would force industries to cut back on hiring.
The state, which last boosted the minimum wage six years ago, is following the lead of San Jose and San Francisco, which already had set citywide minimum hourly wages at $10.
Students at a construction apprentice program, who provided the backdrop to Brown at Oakland's Cypress Mandela Training Center, applauded the bill but questioned if $10 was truly a livable hourly wage. "I think it's still not enough," said Derick Abulencia, 25, of Vallejo.
Alicia Porter, of Brentwood, said she wished the minimum wage had been higher seven years ago when she was making $6.25 an hour at a Burger King in Stockton. "I wouldn't have had to decide whether to pay the rent or the PG&E bill," she said.
The minimum wage law is just one of dozens of bills passed last month during a flurry of legislative activity. Brown already has signed laws restricting paparazzi access to children, expanding family sick leave rules, establishing the development of a statewide earthquake warning system and regulating oil and gas fracking.
The governor still hasn't weighed in on gun -control measures, including a proposal to let violence-plagued Oakland write stricter regulations than currently allowed under state law. He refused Wednesday to discuss the fate of any bills still awaiting his signature.
Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, who sponsored the Oakland gun control law, said Brown has been silent on it, but Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern recently signaled his support. "I think that is a big step," Bonta said.
California's minimum wage is scheduled to top Washington state's, which is set at $9.19. Washington's law, however, allows the minimum wage to rise with the cost of living -- a provision that was stripped out of the California bill at the behest of business interests.
Asked if he would have supported an automatic minimum wage escalator, Brown said he was satisfied with the bill he signed. "It fits my philosophy of pushing everybody, but not trying to push anybody too far," he said.
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.