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Better Pay at LAX Hotels Urged

A group says higher wages are necessary if the city hopes to improve Century Boulevard, the first L.A. site many visitors see.

April 26, 2006|Stephen Clark | Times Staff Writer

The first step to improving the neighborhood leading from Los Angeles International Airport should be to improve working conditions for the area's hotel employees, a report released Tuesday recommends.

The Coalition for a New Century, a group of clergy, workers and community groups, recommends paying hotel workers higher wages. It suggests at least $10.33 per hour with no healthcare benefits or $9.08 per hour if such benefits are provided. It also recommends requiring employees be given at least 90 days' notice when hotel ownership changes, and providing workers with career training.

The report was unveiled at a City Hall news conference.

The first sight of Los Angeles for many visitors arriving at LAX is Century Boulevard, a seedy strip of fast-food restaurants, parking lots, gas stations and strip clubs that stretches east from the airport. It also is home to 13 hotels.

Many of the 3,500 Century Boulevard hotel workers make minimum wage -- $6.75 an hour -- or just slightly more, plus tips. Although many are offered the chance to purchase health insurance, large numbers decline because they can't afford it. Employees and their supporters say low wages and unaffordable insurance have contributed to the poor economic conditions of surrounding neighborhoods -- where many of the hotel workers live -- including Lennox and parts of Hawthorne and Inglewood.

Among the report's findings:

* Despite having the highest hotel occupancy rates in Los Angeles County, the area has one of the lowest hotel room rates.

* Hotel wages are 20% below those in downtown Los Angeles hotels and nearly 30% below those in Beverly Hills and West Hollywood.

* Several of the hotels are keeping tips intended for workers.

A week ago, Los Angeles' chief legislative analyst released a document with similar recommendations.

The City Council will discuss the legislative analyst's report today.

The coalition hopes to work with the hotels to improve conditions but did not rule out pressing for legislation if talks prove fruitless.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a former labor organizer, briefly appeared at the news conference.

"This initiative has my support and I look forward to working with you in the upcoming months," Villaraigosa told coalition members. City Council President Eric Garcetti and Councilman Bill Rosendahl also attended.

The coalition formed in February. Members said they invited hotel operators and the Gateway Business Improvement District to join but they declined.

Marc Grossman, senior vice president of corporate affairs for Hilton, said he was unaware of such an invitation but would consider it: "We're always open to being part of an effort to improve an area, but every situation is different, and it also depends on what's being asked in return."

As for boosting wages, Grossman said: "We treat our people well and we have a history of paying our people well. We always pay at least a competitive wage."

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