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ELECTION 2002

Backers of Failed 'Living Wage' Vow to Press On

November 07, 2002|Martha Groves | Times Staff Writer

Disappointed but not dejected by the narrow defeat of Santa Monica's "living wage" measure, proponents said Wednesday they would continue their battle to boost the pay of the city's service workers.

Business leaders who opposed the measure, meanwhile, acknowledged that backers of Measure JJ had raised valid social concerns but said their proposed solution was unworkable. The ordinance's supporters had worthy goals, but "their approach wasn't wise," said Tom Larmore, who heads the Chamber of Commerce's issues committee.

Both sides agreed that the hard-fought issue of pay for the working poor, which has put Santa Monica in the national spotlight, isn't going away.

Measure JJ failed by a slim 745 votes, with 12,608 ballots cast in favor and 13,353 against.

"We're going to continue to work for ... justice for these people who woke up this morning and still had to figure out how to buy food and pay rent," said the Rev. Sandie Richards, a United Methodist minister at Church in Ocean Park in Santa Monica.

The mood of Richards and other Measure JJ proponents was much more subdued than it was Tuesday night, when they celebrated the end of a bruising campaign with Cuban music, Mexican folk dancers and Thai food. By midnight, with early returns moving against them, disheartened volunteers began heading for home.

In the end, they said, they were defeated by the argument that the measure threatened to take funds away from schools, libraries and other services. The campaign against the measure was funded largely by the city's luxury hotels.

Most of the 90 or so living-wage ordinances across the nation cover companies that have contracts with cities. Santa Monica's proposal drew attention as the first that would have established a minimum wage for private employers of hotel maids, food-service workers and others.

Passed last year by the Santa Monica City Council, the ordinance would have required businesses in the city's coastal tourism zone with more than $5 million a year in gross sales to pay their employees $10.50 an hour with health benefits or $12.25 without. Business leaders launched a signature-gathering campaign to put the issue on Tuesday's ballot.

Larmore said the business community wants the City Council to convene a meeting of Santa Monica residents and business owners to discuss the issues raised in the campaign.

One solution would be to have the chamber sponsor a health program that businesses could tap into.

Richards dismissed Larmore's suggestion, saying the city's large luxury hotels in the past have failed to negotiate in good faith.

Paul Sonn, a living-wage proponent at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University's School of Law, called the defeat of Measure JJ "an unfortunate short-term setback" for the national living-wage movement. "Living-wage policies that reach beyond the city-contracted sector and affect some of the private labor market are ... an important new direction," he said.

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Times staff writer Kishan Putta contributed to this report.

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