At a standing room only session of the Los Angeles City Council on Sept. 24, council members voted to raise the minimum wage to $15.37 an hour for hotel workers.
“Many workers live in Los Angeles. They pay taxes and buy groceries and other items they need in Los Angeles. With this raise they will be able to buy more and this increase will only benefit the city,” said Benny Avina, a worker at Pomona College who came to support the hotel workers. “Hotels make billions of dollars and many hotel workers are single mothers having to work two jobs to make ends meet.”
RAISE LA, a coalition of church groups, students, community organizations and small business, and initiated by UNITE HERE Local 11 packed the chambers to support an ordinance to raise the minimum wage of hotel workers.
Councilmember Curren D. Price, Jr., stated that by passing this ordinance workers will no longer have to work two jobs, allowing parents to spend more time on their children’s education, and to tuck their children into bed at night.
Councilmember Mike Bonin thanked all those whose efforts had made this vote possible, saying that it was time to provide targeted incentives to help those living in poverty, and not just incentives for business.
An attempt to raise the exemption of hotels with fewer than 150 rooms to 250 rooms failed, which was a victory for the workers. As it stands, if passed, the ordinance would apply to hotels with 300-plus rooms by July 2015, and hotels with 125-plus rooms by 2016.
During the public speakers portion of the council meeting several hotel owners and managers gave Doomsday scenarios on loss of jobs and closings of hotels. But as the speakers in support of hotel workers pointed out, the same concerns were expressed when the City of Long Beach voted to increase the wages of hotel workers, and that in fact no such scenario occurred. Rather, the raise brought thousands more dollars to the city. Economic analysts projects that the raise will inject another $39.6 million into the Los Angeles economy.
Mayor of Santa Monica Pam O’Connor reported that in her city hotels are already paying a living wage of $15.30, which includes hotels of all sizes. “Development is robust as a result, local business are as successful as before. No one should live in poverty.”
Vice President of the Los Angeles School Board Steve Zimmer stated that in June the Board endorsed this issue because they recognized it was a public education issue. He stated that about “15,000 of our parents work in this industry and we want them to be able to have the chance to be involved in their children’s education.” The raise will affect some 12,000 workers, in an industry whose local average pay is only $10.55. As many as 40% of hospitality industry workers currently live below the poverty line.
Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, said, “We are here side by side with workers who are a vital part of a growing industry of tourism, the men and women who work in this industry create enormous profit for this industry. It’s time we invest in them, not just the brick and mortar of the buildings.”
James Amador of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), stated, “Hotels have had record revenues in the last four years and record occupancy this last year. They can afford to pay their workers a living wage.” At the same time, hotels have been beneficiaries of municipal tax breaks for new construction, and of large-scale urban clean-up and restoration projects in such popular destinations as Hollywood.
The final vote was 12 yes and 3 no. Because the vote was not unanimous, this vote requires that another vote be taken at the next scheduled meeting council meeting, where it will require the vote of 10 or more to pass.
Photo: USC and Pomona College workers surround UNITE-HERE’s Christian Torres during the Los Angeles City Council meeting, Sept. 24 (via UNITE-HERE Local 11)