Despite a legal setback, hotels near Los Angeles International Airport are not giving up their fight to overturn an ordinance requiring them to pay workers the city's living wage.

A three-judge state panel Dec. 27 upheld L.A.'s year-old ordinance, which requires the operators of a dozen airport-area hotels to pay workers $9.39 an hour with benefits or $10.64 an hour without benefits. In so doing, the appellate court overturned a lower court ruling in May that found the ordinance was not constitutional.

A spokesman for the hotels said last week that they intend to continue their challenge with support from major business groups. Several options are being considered, from appealing the decision to putting a counterinitiative on the ballot.

"There are a lot of people looking at a lot of different options, but I can tell you that letting the ordinance stand is not likely to be one of them," said spokesman Harvey Englander.

The stakes for the local business community are substantial, since this is the first time Los Angeles' living wage ordinance has been applied to businesses that do not work directly with the city. The original living wage ordinance, passed 11 years ago, applies only to contractors or businesses receiving city funds.

Los Angeles officials and union allies argue that the hotels benefit from their proximity to a city asset LAX and should therefore be obligated to share more of their profits with their workers.

"The hotels on Century Boulevard were determined to deny their own workers decent wages and a better life," said the Rev. Anna Olson, deputy director of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, in a statement.

The living wage battle follows a years-long effort by the Unite Here union to organize hotel workers. In an attempt to put pressure on hotel operators, organized labor allies approached the City Council two years ago with a proposal to extend the living wage ordinance. It was adopted by the council in January 2007.

After business groups threatened to put the measure before voters, the City Council rescinded it and promised to enact a substantially different ordinance that would be more palatable to hotel owners. However, hotel owners sued to overturn it.

On May 31, state Superior Court Judge David Yaffe sided with the hotel owners and nullified the ordinance, prompting an appeal by the city. In reversing the decision, the appellate court ruled that the revised ordinance was different enough to stand.

The hotels have until Jan. 25 to file for a rehearing of the case by the same three-judge panel. If that is unsuccessful, they could appeal to the state Supreme Court, among other options.

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