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Pillow-mint politics

The City Council deciding how much LAX-area hotel workers should be paid? Welcome to Los Angeles.

February 01, 2007

LET'S TEST YOUR knowledge of how Los Angeles works. Here's the problem: Employees of a dozen or so hotels near Los Angeles International Airport want to be paid more. The hotels, however, don't want to pay their workers more.

Normally this would be for the workers and the hotels to work out. But this is L.A., remember. So the City Council, at the behest of organized labor, extended its "living wage" law -- which applied to employees of companies with city contracts -- to those hotel workers. The bottom line is that they end up getting paid more. But your question is this: Who pays them?

If you answered "why, the hotels, of course," you haven't been paying attention. Please take a seat. If you answered "the unions," you have some remedial catch-up to do. But if you answered "the taxpayers," good work. You win. Sorry, though -- no prize.

The gist of the quasi-agreement announced on Wednesday is that the City Council rescinded the ill-considered airport hotel wage law it passed last year and declared that it would instead pass a new law requiring, well, pretty much the same thing. Because the old law is rescinded, there will be no referendum to overturn it. The hotels would get an "economic overlay zone," which is city-speak for tax breaks. They would pay their workers more, and, in turn, they would put less into the city coffers to pay for police and fire protection, street maintenance and other standard services.

Meanwhile, businesses everywhere are sent a clear message: If you come to Los Angeles, the mayor and City Council may single you out for special wage requirements. No wonder that as the city's population grows, its job base is shrinking. New L.A. residents are getting on the freeways to go to neighboring communities where the work is.

The Chamber of Commerce has put the best face on this deal, hopefully (and naively) noting that the City Council is promising to never do anything like this again. But some council members are already making it clear that they won't be bound by any such promise.

The punch line of this fiasco is that the agreement isn't really an agreement. Talks between labor and the LAX-area hotels are "continuing" -- which means taxpayers remain in grave danger.

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