Los Angeles Hotel Workers Win $15 minimum Wage, One of America's Highest

Workers at big hotels in Los Angeles have won one of the highest minimum wages in the United States after a campaign by unions and civil rights groups.

The city council voted on Wednesday night to establish a minimum hourly wage of $15.37 for employees of hotels with more than 125 rooms, a decision expected to boost campaigns for better wages in other industries and cities.

Hotel workers in yellow T-shirts packed city hall and cheered as the council voted 12 to 3 for the ordinance, delivering a potentially landmark victory for the living wage movement and a defeat to business groups who warned of job losses.

“We’re thrilled that the city has passed such a historic ordinance,” said Ruth Dawson, a staff attorney and reproductive justice fellow at the American Civil Liberties Union of South California, which was part of the coalition lobbying for the measure.

Most of the affected workers – estimated to range in number from 5,300 to 13,500 – were women and many were mothers, so a living wage meant reproductive justice as well as economic, said Dawson. “We hope this decision will extend far beyond LA as an example.”

Victor Narra, a project director at the UCLA Labor Center, which also lobbied for the measure, said it was a necessary response to poverty. A report last year found that 27% of LA’s population, more than New York or Chicago, lived in poverty.

“We’re the largest major city with the deepest poverty. In non-unionised jobs it’s impossible for people to sustain themselves. To work full time and be in poverty flies in the face of the American dream.”

The city council’s decision followed nation-wide momentum this year to alleviate so-called poverty wages. Eleven state legislatures approved minimum-wage increases. President Barack Obama lobbied to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10. Seattle voted for a gradual rollout of a $15 overall minimum wage. Eric Garcetti, LA’s mayor, wants to raise the city’s overall minimum wage to $13.25 by 2017.

A coalition of neighbourhood councils, advocacy groups and unions such as Unite convinced LA’s city council that workers at dozens of big hotels merited special attention. It cited research suggesting the wage increase would boost the local economy and allow parents, some of whom do two jobs to make ends meet, spend more time with their children.

Opponents said city hall ignored two other reports which warned of job losses. “Today a whole bunch of people in the hotel industry lost their jobs; they just don’t know it yet,” Ruben Gonzalez, of LA’s chamber of commerce, told the LA Times.

Christopher Thornberg, a partner of Beacon Economics, which produced one of the two critical studies, said hotels around LA’s international airport shed 10% of their jobs in the six years after city hall mandated a pay rise for the area’s workers in 2007. Hotels in the rest of LA county, in contrast, gained 10% more jobs in the same period, he said.

Economists disagree on the overall impact of higher minimum wages. Narra said exemptions for small and struggling hotels meant the sky would not fall on local businesses.

The measure will go into effect next July for hotels with more than 300 rooms. Those with more than 125 rooms, but fewer than 300, will have until July 1016. Because Wednesday’s vote was not unanimous it will go to a second vote next week, which is expected to be a formality.


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