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Union commences Calif. ballot drive for $15 wage

A union-backed proposal to raise California's minimum wage to $15 an hour was cleared Monday to begin collecting signatures for a ballot initiative next year as local efforts continue nationwide to boost the minimum wage to better reflect the cost of living.

The proposal by the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West would increase California's minimum wage by $1 an hour annually until it reaches $15 an hour in 2021. California's current $9 hourly wage, among the highest in the country, is set to increase to $10 next year.

It's the latest in a nationwide effort by unions and other groups to raise the wage. The cities of Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley have approved phased-in increases to eventually take their minimum wage to $15 an hour, and the University of California system and Los Angeles County have adopted similar plans.

In New York, the state Wage Board has endorsed a proposal to phase in a $15 minimum wage for workers at fast-food restaurants with 30 or more locations.

"We have done extensive polling and there is very strong support among likely voters for a $15 minimum wage. The numbers are trending up," said Steve Trossman, a spokesman for SEIU-UHW and one of two proponents of the ballot initiative. "We believe that by November 2016, 15 months from now, the support for this is going to be even higher."

He said the union expects to be joined by other unions and like-minded groups in the effort, which he said will start collecting signatures within days.

Democrats in the state Legislature are also pushing to raise the statewide minimum wage, just two years after Gov. Jerry Brown approved an increase. Legislation by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, would raise the rate to $11 in 2016 and $13 in 2017, then tie the minimum wage to inflation starting in 2019.

The California Chamber of Commerce has labeled Leno's bill a "job killer," saying it would lead companies to reduce hiring.

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