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Hotels urged to end pay fight

December 13, 2006|Joe Mathews | Times Staff Writer

The city's leading politicians called on hotel owners Tuesday to abandon their effort to block a new ordinance that requires hotels near Los Angeles International Airport to pay a "living wage" valued at $10.64 an hour to their nonunion workers.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) made separate visits to 11 hotel workers, who completed a seven-day fast during which they slept in tents along Century Boulevard.

The hotels have begun gathering signatures to put a referendum on the city ballot that would void the ordinance.

After Nunez condemned the planned referendum as "disgraceful," a subdued mayor -- handing out glasses of grape juice to workers as they broke their fast shortly after 5 p.m. -- said he would prefer to sit down with the business community and negotiate a compromise. Villaraigosa signed the law last month.

"This kind of initiative can be very divisive," he said of the referendum. Business leaders have denounced the law because it expands, for the first time, the "living wage" requirement for city contractors to businesses with no direct financial relationship with the local government.

Harvey Englander, a spokesman for a hotel- and business-backed committee that supports the referendum on wages, said the petition drive had produced "an extraordinary number of signatures" and was far ahead of schedule.

The referendum needs 49,308 signatures by Dec. 29 to go before voters as soon as May. The ordinance cannot take effect while the referendum effort continues.

Nunez departed from his schedule to challenge a decision Tuesday by another airport-area hotel -- the Sheraton Four Points, which is not backing the referendum -- to oust 12 workers. Leaders of Unite Here, the union leading the organizing drive, said that the dozen workers were leaders of the unionization effort and that the decision was retaliatory.

Onofre Gallegos, a vice president with American Property Management, which owns 45 hotels nationwide and took over the Four Points on Tuesday, said the hotel did not know of the workers' union activity and was merely exercising its right as a new owner not to rehire workers.

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joe.mathews@latimes.com

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