$15 minimum wage could help South LA hotel workers

Embassy Suites hotel workers on strike | LA County Federation of Labor

Three Los Angeles City Council members have launched a bid to increase the wages of the city’s hotel workers to $15.37 an hour, a major pay jump for more than 40 percent of the industry’s workers who live below the poverty line.

The raise would affect hotels with more than 100 rooms — 87 of them in L.A. — and an estimated 10,000 employees. Union workers said the increase could lift housekeepers, busboys and maintenance workers out of poverty.

That could be especially significant in South L.A.’s 9th District, an area with the city’s highest poverty rate.

“Income inequality is a persistent issue plaguing our country, our city and especially our under-served South Los Angeles community,” said District 9 councilman Curren Price, who is pushing for the wage increase along with councilmembers Mike Bonin and Nury Martinez representing West Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley, respectively.

The U.S. Census reported 21 percent of Los Angeles residents live below the poverty line as of 2012. And in L.A.’s hospitality industry, 43 percent of workers are making incomes below the federal poverty line, which is about $7.25 an hour. So

The Senate shut down the most recent proposal to raise the federal minimum wage despite states taking individual action to raise wages. Democrats had proposed to raise the federal hourly minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 over the next few years, allowing the increase to correlate directly with inflation rates. However, the measure was defeated 54 votes to 42, just 18 votes shy of the number of votes needed.

The raise was intended to help alleviate the financial hardships faced by millions of low-income Americans and attempt to raise their standard of living while ultimately bringing them out of poverty. Senate majority leader Harry Reid said the measure was not simply about politics.

“It’s about whether or not it is right that people who are working 40 hours a week get a fair shot at being able to provide for their families,” Reid told the New York Times.

California’s minimum wage is set to increase statewide from $8 to $9 beginning July 1.  It will then increase to $10 on the first of the year in 2016. Meanwhile, Connecticut’s wage will increase to $10 and ten cents by 2017, while New York will raise its wages to $9 by the end of 2015.

Hasira S. Ashemu, the senior communications specialist for Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, said a wage increase would benefit the city’s infrastructure as much as it would benefit the workers. With more expendable income, workers would be able to boost the local economy.

“When Los Angeles workers are thriving and making a living wage, Los Angeles does better,” Ashemu said.

Ashemu also pointed out the increase is already present in certain areas of the city. Hotel workers in the immediate vicinity of Los Angeles International Airport are a paid a minimum of $15.37. The wage was established in 2007 after the city adopted a “living wage” ordinance, raising the rates of hotel workers and LAX employees.

Raise LA, a campaign created under LAANE to foster action and support for the rate increase for hotel workers, reported that Los Angeles hotels have seen an increase in revenue over the past three years, but their wages, in relation to the percentage of their revenue, have dropped 15 percent.

“The reason we are focusing on hotel workers is because the hotel industry is the largest employer of poverty wage jobs in the city,” Ashemu said. “Forty percent of hotel workers live in poverty.”

Opponents argued a hike that expands far beyond the LAX area would negatively affect consumers, who might bear the consequences of the workers’ raise. According to the Los Angeles Times, hotel owners and representatives warned the measure would cause higher room rates and layoffs as they attempt to stabilize their budgets.

Ashemu argued against these concerns, citing L.A.’s dependence on tourism industry for revenue.

“These hotels are doing perfectly fine. They are thriving,” Ashemu said. “At the end of the day, what a hotel provides is service. Their product is service, so to lay off their workers will negatively impact their product, which is their ability to serve.”

A New York Times and CBS News’ poll
 revealed 62 percent of Americans support a minimum wage increase. The current rate has not been raised since 2009. If City Council approves the hotel workers wage, it will be the highest minimum wage in the country. The rate would increase to adjust for inflation.

The proposal will be presented to the city attorney in about three weeks for review and modification before the council takes a vote.

Ashemu noted political gridlock as a factor in slowing the proposal from advancing, but remains optimistic.

“Fortunately, we have a very progressive mayor and city council who understand when workers are doing well, then Los Angeles is doing well,” he said.

A version of this article originally appeared on Neon Tommy. This story is part of Neon Tommy’s series, Wage in L.A., which explores how Angelenos survive on the state’s minimum wage of $8 an hour, and how they feel about their jobs.

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  1. […] a ballot initiative to require most businesses to pay $15 an hour by 2017, and earlier this year, Los Angeles lawmakers proposed increasing hotel worker wages to $15.37 an hour, since more than 40 percent of the industry’s […]

  2. […] Los Angeles is considering a hotel-industry specific $15.85 minimum wage bill, much like the one in Providence. The proposal there exempts hotels will fewer than 100 rooms, and the Providence version exempts hotels with fewer than 25 rooms. In LA, hotel employees in the LAX neighborhood have had a minimum wage law protection since 2007. […]

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