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Council OKs new living wage law

After rescinding an earlier ordinance under threat of a referendum, the panel votes to hike pay for workers at hotels near LAX.

February 14, 2007|Joe Mathews and Steve Hymon | Times Staff Writers

After a proposed deal with top business leaders crumbled over the weekend, the Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday approved a new version of a living wage ordinance for workers at hotels near Los Angeles International Airport.

The 9 to 3 vote guarantees wages and benefits of at least $10.64 per hour to workers at 13 hotels along Century Boulevard.

Though the law is expected to win final approval next week, it is likely to be challenged in court, union and business officials agreed Tuesday.

The city had rescinded its original ordinance for the hotel workers under threat of a referendum, and some business interests say that would make it difficult for the city to defend a new law in court -- particularly if the new law isn't much different from the old one.

Council President Eric Garcetti, however, said the city was on solid legal ground.

Talk of a potential lawsuit added to the charged debate on Tuesday.

A livid City Councilwoman Janice Hahn asked business officials to reconsider giving the money they would use for lawyers to the hotel workers.

"I implore you not to tie this up in litigation," said Hahn, her voice rising. "Pay your hotel workers what they deserve."

That brought much of the large audience in council chambers to their feet to applaud Hahn, who pushed for the original legislation with Councilman Bill Rosendahl.

The quarrel began last year when the council voted to apply the city's living wage ordinance to the Century Boulevard hotels. Until then, the law had applied only to companies that contract with the city, but the council reasoned that the city should have a say over wages and benefits at the hotels because they rely on business generated by the city-owned airport.

Hotel owners and other supporters gathered signatures and threatened a costly ballot fight in May to repeal the ordinance.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the council leadership, attempting to avoid an expensive vote, agreed to rescind the first ordinance and replace it with a new ordinance that imposed the living wage while adding other features.

Those include city investment in the Century Boulevard streetscape, restrictions on expanding the living wage to other parts of the city and a round of city studies to determine the effect of the ordinance.

Two Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce representatives attended a news conference two weeks ago to announce an agreement in principle, with board Chairman David Fleming pointedly saying details still would need to be negotiated.

It was clear Tuesday that business interests had not been satisfied with the compromise agreement.

"We tried to create legislation that would be reassuring to the board of directors," said Gary Toebben, president of the chamber. "It wasn't."

His complaint: The new ordinance is the same as the old one, with a few bells and whistles attached.

That was among the arguments made by the three council members -- Bernard C. Parks, Greig Smith and Dennis Zine -- who voted against it Tuesday.

Maria Elena Durazo, head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, said she would move ahead with efforts to unionize the hotels -- long a goal of labor organizers.

"The hotel owners' whole point is to intimidate workers and convince them that if they can't even get a minimal wage increase, they won't be able to get a union," Durazo said.

A final vote will be held next week because Tuesday's vote wasn't unanimous.

In the second vote, only a simple majority will be required for approval.

*

joe.mathews@latimes.com

steve.hymon@latimes.com

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