Hotel operators in Long Beach are mobilizing to oppose a union-backed ballot measure that would require big hotels to pay their workers a “living wage” of $13 an hour.
The measure, which backers hope to qualify for the November ballot, targets the 16 hotels in Long Beach with more than 100 rooms, including the Long Beach Hyatt Regency and Hilton Long Beach Hotel.
Backers, including the Unite Here Local 11 hotel employees union and the union-allied Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, said the initiative is necessary because hotel operators don’t pay their workers enough in wages and benefits to support their families.
But hotel industry officials and local business groups said the initiative represents an unwarranted intrusion into business operations; the city has no business telling hotel operators how much they should pay their employees. They say that those hotels that don’t already pay their workers $13 an hour would have to reduce the number of new hires or even lay off people to offset the additional cost of meeting the mandatory wage.
Executives with the 16 hotels met last week to consider re-establishing a coalition that four years ago successfully fended off a union-backed ordinance that would have required hotels leasing city property to hire union workers.
“The hotel operators are really concerned about this living-wage measure,” said Mike Murchison, a lobbyist in Long Beach who has in the past represented hotels in the city.
Several hotel executives contacted for this story either declined to comment or did not return calls seeking comment.
However, the head of the Los Angeles Hotels Association, which represents most of the targeted hotels in Long Beach, called the measure an unfriendly business practice.
“We know this is going to impact our members,” said Bob Amano, the association’s chief executive.
Initiative backers have until mid-May to submit 20,000 valid signatures to the City Clerk’s Office to qualify the measure in time for the November ballot. A few weeks after that, the city clerk would submit the measure to the City Council, which could adopt the measure or send it to voters.
Opponents said that they intend to launch their opposition campaign in the next couple of weeks in an attempt to prevent the measure from qualifying for the ballot.
“Getting 20,000 valid signatures in 10 weeks is not going to be an easy task, so the hotels have a real shot at preventing the initiative from making the ballot,” Murchison said.
Leigh Shelton, a spokeswoman for Unite Here Local 11 said the union chose the initiative route because past attempts to have local city councils impose living-wage ordinances resulted in challenges from business and industry groups.
In Long Beach, a coalition of hotels and business interests submitted 30,000 signatures to place a referendum on a 2008 city ballot that would have overturned a city ordinance requiring hotels leasing city-owned property to hire only union workers. Rather than wage a costly ballot campaign, the City Council chose to rescind the ordinance.
“We felt that rather than risk a challenge from business, we should take this initiative straight to the people,” Shelton said.
Business leaders in Long Beach said the union is taking the initiative route because the council majority won’t adopt the living wage.
“They did the counting and figured they didn’t have the five votes,” said Randy Gordon, chief executive of the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. “That’s the only reason why they would resort to such an expensive method. Just to qualify the measure for the ballot will cost at least $100,000, let alone the cost of a campaign.”
Gordon said that the hotels that don’t currently pay their employees $13 an hour will have to scale back hiring.
“If they try to pass this cost on to customers, those customers will book at hotels just outside the city that don’t face a living-wage mandate,” he said.
He added that the initiative will help Unite Here Local 11 unionize hotel workers in Long Beach by showing the group has leverage. Unite Here Local 11 disputed that assertion.
At a press conference last month announcing the initiative, two housekeepers at the Hilton Long Beach said the wages they earned were not enough to pay for adequate housing.
One worker, Romeo Trinidad, said he makes $10.81 an hour, or about $22,500 a year before taxes, and is the sole earner for a family of four. He gets public assistance to pay for housing, electricity and natural gas.
Another Hilton Long Beach housekeeper, Veronica Flores, said she earned $8 an hour, or about $16,650 a year before taxes, and that she sublets a bedroom in an apartment for herself and her two children.
Hilton Long Beach General Manager Michael Platt declined to comment, referring the call to Hilton corporate headquarters in McLean, Va. Further attempts to obtain a response from Hilton Hotels Corp. were unsuccessful.
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