City of Los Angeles Seal

By David Zahniser and Emily Alpert Reyes
September 24, 2014

Big hotels in Los Angeles will soon be required to pay at least $15.37 an hour to their workers — one of the highest minimum-wage requirements in the country.

The City Council voted 12 to 3 on Wednesday to impose the higher wage on large hotels, delivering a huge victory to a coalition that included organized labor, more than a dozen neighborhood councils and the ACLU of Southern California. Lawmakers cast their vote despite warnings from business advocates, who said the measure would trigger job losses at hotels stretching from Harbor Gateway to the San Fernando Valley.

Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education, predicted that other cities would follow L.A.’s lead, much as they did after passage of the city’s landmark 1997 “living wage” ordinance mandating higher pay for employees of many city contractors.
Because of the size and prominence of the hotel industry here in Los Angeles, I do believe that this will have national reverberations. – Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education

“Because of the size and prominence of the hotel industry here in Los Angeles, I do believe that this will have national reverberations,” he said.

Wednesday’s vote serves as a warmup for what is expected to be an intense debate over a more sweeping pay proposal from Mayor Eric Garcetti, who is seeking to gradually hike L.A.’s overall minimum wage to $13.25 per hour by 2017. Maria Elena Durazo, who heads the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and championed the hotel wage measure, said her group has no position yet on “the specifics” of Garcetti’s plan.

“Our position is that we need to explicitly get to $15 an hour as soon as possible,” she said.

Council members said their decision on the hotel proposal would pull families out of poverty, freeing housekeepers, banquet servers and others from having to hold a second job. “It is not OK for families … working in this thriving industry to not see their children before they go to bed,” said Councilwoman Nury Martinez, who represents the central San Fernando Valley.

Foes of the measure said the council had ignored two critical reports spelling out ways the measure would harm the hospitality industry.

“Today a whole bunch of people in the hotel industry lost their jobs; they just don’t know it yet,” said Ruben Gonzalez, senior vice president with the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.

Wednesday’s vote represented the council’s most significant move to increase wages in the private sector since 2007, when lawmakers hiked the base pay of employees at 12 hotels near Los Angeles International Airport. That decision, while increasing the incomes of hotel workers, led to a reduction in overall hospitality jobs near LAX, said Christopher Thornberg, founding partner of Beacon Economics, which produced one of the studies for the council.

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