LA hotel employees join Santa Monica with highest minimum wage in the nation

Beginning next summer, most hotels in Los Angeles will have to start paying their employees $15.37/hour. The new law will not apply to unionized hotels.
Beginning next summer, most hotels in Los Angeles will have to start paying their employees $15.37/hour. The new law will not apply to unionized hotels. Photo by Kevin Dooley via Flickr Creative Commons

Beginning next summer, employees at Los Angeles' largest hotels will be paid the highest minimum wages in the country - more than twice the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

The Los Angeles City Council voted 12-3 Wednesday to raise the minimum wage for the hotel industry to $15.37 an hour. It replaces an earlier law that mandated a living wage for employees at hotels near Los Angeles International Airport.

Councilwoman Nury Martinez, who co-authored the proposal, said the law aims to help the city's poorest workers, who often have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet under the state's current minimum wage of $9 an hour. 

"It is not OK for mothers in this city who work in this industry to not be home before bedtime to put their kids to sleep," she said. "It is not OK for families to have to raise a family in Los Angeles - working for this thriving industry - not to see their children before they go to bed."

The vote angered some hotel operators who testified Wednesday that increasing wages would force them to lay off employees in order to balance their books. They also complained that officials ignored reports on the economic impact the new law could have on the industry.

Los Angeles is the largest city in Southern California to take on the issue of how to help low-wage hotel workers living in an expensive urban center. The city of Santa Monica already requires hotel operators to pay employees $15.37 per hour. Long Beach has a hotel living wage of $13.53 per hour. 

On a larger scale, Mayor Eric Garcetti wants to increase the minimum wage for all workers in Los Angeles to $13.25 per hour by 2017.

If he gets it, Los Angeles would still be behind Seattle, where the minimum wage will be $15 per hour by 2017. San Francisco voters will decide in November whether they want to increase the minimum wage to the $15 threshold by 2018. 

Officially, one more step is needed for the hotel worker pay ordinance to become final. The city's of Los Angeles' rules call for two votes - and affirmative votes by at least eight council members - to approve a measure, unless it passes unanimously the first time. The second vote, to be held next week, is procedural.

Once that happens, the hotel minimum wage will come in phases. Hotels with 300 rooms or more will have to start paying at least $15.37 an hour on July 1. Those with 150 to 300 rooms will have to pay the higher wages in 2016.

Unionized hotels are exempt - as their employees already work under a contract - as are hotels with fewer than 150 rooms.

The new law would cover both salaried and tipped employees.

The three dissenting votes Wednesday were Councilmen Bernard Parks, Mitch Englander and Paul Krekorian. 

City Hall officials expect 41 or 42 hotels to be affected when the law takes full effect in 2016. Economists disagree on exactly how many employees will be affected by the new law but the estimate is around 13,000. 

The head of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association complained Wednesday that the city council commissioned three economic studies on the wage law, but did not invite those economists to present their findings at the meeting. 

"Their reports came out 36 hours ago," said Stuart Waldman, who heads the group. "No one has had time to actually look at these reports, dissect them. But let's give the appearance that you actually want to hear what these reports have to say."

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