L.A. Hotels Workers Could See $15.37 An Hour Minimum If Study Pans Out

By Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou, City News Service

Three Los Angeles City Council members Tuesday called for raising the minimum wage to $15.37 an hour for about 11,000 hotel workers in the city.

The California minimum wage is $8 an hour and is set to go to $9 in July and $10 by 2016. Voters in cities such as Long Beach and San Jose have opted in recent years to raise the local minimum wage above the state’s for all or some workers. San Francisco, which in 2003 pegged its minimum wage to inflation, requires employers to pay workers at least $10.74 an hour.

City Council members Mike Bonin, Nury Martinez and Curren Price Jr. asked for a study of the effects of increasing the hourly wage for some of the lowest paid hotel workers in the city, including housekeepers, dishwashers, clerks and bellhops.

The raise would affect employees at 87 hotels with more than 100 rooms.

If the economic study supports the hike, an ordinance would be drafted, according to a proposal to be discussed by the City Council’s Economic Development Committee.

Los Angeles city leaders are allowed to adopt local minimum wage increases as long as an economic study is done, and it shows the city would benefit from the change, Bonin spokesman David Graham-Caso said.

A higher minimum wage in Los Angeles can also be adopted without a study if it is approved by voters, he said.

Council members point to existing research by the Economic Policy Institute that says raising hotel wages would result in more than $70 million for Los Angeles’s economy.

“We’re doing this because it’s the right thing to do for people who work two and three jobs and still struggle to make ends meet,” and “because it’s the right way to grow the economy in Los Angeles,” Bonin said.

A person paid $15 an hour makes about $30,000 annually, which “doesn’t get you very far if you’re trying to exist in Los Angeles,” Bonin said.

Bonin said the city and taxpayers have invested in free public attractions such as Griffith Park and Venice Beach, as well as improvements to the transportation system that contribute to the health of the local hotel industry, which is experiencing a record 75.4 percent occupancy rate — higher than the 62 percent national average.

Hotels are also earning $100 in “revenue per room available,” which is a 12-year high in Los Angeles, according to the motion.

“The Los Angeles hospitality industry is thriving,” Martinez said.

“We’re glad for their success, but they also need to understand they did not do it alone.”

“Now we’re asking Los Angeles hotels to pay Angelenos a living wage to benefit from the success” that all Angelenos have contributed to, she said.

Martinez said “women in particular are hurting from the low-pay wages,” with housekeepers among the lowest paid in the hotel industry.

They work just as hard as other employees cleaning about 15 rooms a day and experience a 40 percent injury rate, she said.

Martinez, whose father worked as a dishwasher and had to take another job “just to make ends meet,” said the issue is personal.

“Thank goodness my mother got a factory job that paid a living wage and was able to provide for her family and ensure the quality time we needed growing up,” she said, noting that Price Pfister, the Pacoima factory where her mother worked, is gone along with others that once provided jobs paying good wages.

“We no longer have those big factory jobs like we once did in the San Fernando Valley,” she said.

“General Motors isn’t there anymore. The Carnation plant isn’t there anymore.”

Price, who chairs the Economic Development Committee, said a wage hike will benefit the local economy, because the workers affected are more likely to spend their higher wages on small businesses in their own neighborhoods.

“The folks who are going to be earning these additional wages aren’t going to be investing them on Wall Street,” Price said. “They’re going to be getting groceries and shoes, and furniture, their tires repaired.”

The City Council in 2007 passed a “living wage ordinance” for workers at hotels near Los Angeles International Airport.

The council in 2009 also passed a wage increase ordinance for airport employees. Those workers are paid a minimum wage of $15.37 an hour, Bonin said.

Some Los Angeles business leaders questioned the motives behind the proposed wage increase.

“As long as this mandated wage increase would only apply to non-union hotels with union hotels exempt, this is not a true public policy debate about worker compensation, but an attempt to use government to create leverage for union organizing,” said Gary Toebben, president of the LA Area Chamber of Commerce.

“With all the discussion about improving the lives of service industry workers, why would we ever set two separate wage floors for union and non-union workers?” he said.

Bonin said federal law bars the city from imposing a wage hike at hotels with employees who earn union-negotiated wages.

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February 20, 2014  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.


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