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Living Wage Measure Aimed At Larger Hotels Could Appear On November Ballot

Measure Would Force Hotels To Pay $5 An Hour More Than State Minimum

By Tiffany Rider - Staff Writer

May 8th - Proponents of a proposal that would require hotels to pay their workers a minimum of $13 an hour have submitted signatures with the intention of getting the measure on the Long Beach November ballot.

The proposal would require that local hotels with 100 rooms or more provide the following to its employees: a “living wage” of $13 an hour, or $2,000 a month for a full-time employee; five paid sick days a year; and “tip protection,” according to Christine Petit, a Long Beach resident and activist.

In a perspective piece published May 3, Petit wrote that she has been volunteering on a weekly basis to collect signatures that would help place this bill on the November ballot. “Going door-to-door to talk to registered voters, I’ve found that most people agree: a living wage for hotel workers is reasonable,” she wrote.

The hospitality workers union, Unite Here Local 11, social justice group Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) and community organizers jointly filed more than 31,000 signatures to the Long Beach City Clerk’s office in hopes of getting the proposal on the ballot this fall.

The minimum signature requirement for the measure to qualify is 22,000. The city clerk has until June to verify the signatures. If enough signatures are verified, the Long Beach City Council may elect to enact the legislation or move it forward to the California Secretary of State.

The measure would not require workers to take on more duties for the pay increase; essentially it would require more pay for the same amount of work.

Randy Gordon, president of the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, said that such a measure would drive up hotel costs, which would be passed on to guests.

“This issue, quite frankly, is an attempt by the unions to unionize hotel workers,” Gordon said. “It’s all about the hotels joining unions. There’s a reason why those employees of those hotels do not, evidently, want to join the union. Unite Here found it virtually impossible to unionize these workers, and this measure would bring them a step closer to doing that.

“It would give [the union] a little bit more bargaining power,” he continued. “That’s what they care about, those union dues from all of those employees month after month forever, so they can use those fees to continue to elect pro-labor candidates that will do what the unions want to do 100 percent of the time. Quite frankly, they’re good at it. We lost to a very pro-union guy in the 8th Council District. Guess where his vote will lie?”

Gordon said he doubts there would be five votes in favor of this measure among the Long Beach City Council. “They know this would cripple our tourism. . . . I believe they will say, ‘Let the people decide.’”

Gordon noted that “This minimum of $13 an hour also includes a 2 percent automatic raise, plus the gratuity, whatever that gratuity is that they have outlined. Where does it end? Are restaurants next? This . . . will make us so uncompetitive as we try to compete with San Diego and Los Angeles for conventions. This is what the automobile unions did to cripple Detroit, and that’s what they’re trying to do to the Long Beach economy.”

“We will, obviously, fight it at the ballot box,” Gordon said.

Business Journal Publisher George Economides agreed with Gordon that the petition is an attempt by union leaders to boost their numbers.

He said, “If Unite Here really cared about the people working at hotels, it would be pushing for them to get an education. Forcing higher wages is not the way to get people out of poverty or change their low-income status; it’s through education and the doors that open for those who are better educated.

“Hotel entry-level positions and similar low-paying jobs should be stepping stones, not careers. Most of us worked for minimum wage while going to school – and the age is irrelevant – with the knowledge that it was temporary employment. Most businesses are willing to give a hand up to those who want to succeed, but should not be forced to give a hand out to those who constantly complain and are unwilling to at least try to improve themselves. Let’s see Unite Here instead work with hotels on educational initiatives. All businesses, including hotels, are looking for people who have the drive and initiative to move up in a company or an industry.”

He also pointed out that the $13 hourly rate is 62 percent higher than the state’s minimum wage of $8. “That means the overtime rate goes from $12 an hour to $19.50. Both are huge jumps for any business to absorb and will result in fewer hotel jobs,” he said. “Any councilmember who supports this effort is certainly not looking at the best interests of the city today or long term.”