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A sea of yellow "Raise LA" shirts at this week's City Council meeting. (Photo: Raise LA/Facebook)

Los Angeles Hotel Workers Win Big Minimum Wage Victory

City council-approved wage hike to $15.37 per hour will affect up to 13,000 workers, many of them women and minorities

Deirdre Fulton

The Los Angeles City Council passed one of the highest minimum wage requirements in the country this week, which will apply to employees at big hotels around the city.

In a 12-3 vote on Wednesday, council members backed an ordinance establishing a minimum hourly wage of $15.37 for workers at Los Angeles hotels with at least 125 guest rooms. If passed in a final vote next week, the ordinance would go into effect in July for hotels with more than 300 rooms. Those with at least 125 but fewer than 300 would have to comply by July 2016. Analyses suggest the measure, which was backed by organized labor, neighborhood coalitions, and the ACLU of Southern California, would affect anywhere from 5,000 to 13,000 low-income workers.

Supporters wearing yellow "Raise LA" tee shirts cheered and chanted "Si se puede!" as the results were announced.

"Hotel workers are here because they want family-supporting wages," said Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, during the public comment portion of the meeting. “Hotel workers are here because they know they deserve better."

They deserve better, organizers said, because while the thriving hotel industry has benefited from tax breaks and high tourist demand, low-paid employees still need to work two jobs just to make ends meet.

"The hospitality industry is one of the few industries that came out of the recession and has been seeing record profit,” Raise LA Coalition’s Rachel Torres told CBS-LA. "But unfortunately, hotel workers have been living below poverty."

In 2013, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the leisure and hospitality industry had the highest percentage—19 percent—of workers earning hourly wages at or below the federal minimum wage, $7.25. The California minimum wage is currently set at $9 an hour.

Opponents of the measure said it was a job killer or would discourage development. "Today a whole bunch of people in the hotel industry lost their jobs; they just don't know it yet," said Ruben Gonzalez, senior vice president with the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, in the LA Times.

But in the face of conflicting positions, the low-paid worker's plight was more compelling to lawmakers.

"I am not naïve to the fact that there will be trade offs, including the possibility of some job loss," said Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, who backed the wage hike measure. "However, this will help lift many out of poverty. My heart voted with the hotel workers, most of them women, who are struggling to balance a job and family just to afford to pay rent. At the end of the day, between the intellect and the heart, the heart wins out."

The victory could influence the national discussion about raising the minimum wage.

"Because of the size and prominence of the hotel industry here in Los Angeles, I do believe that this will have national reverberations," Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education, told the LA Times.

At the very least, the measure is sure to increase momentum behind LA Mayor Eric Garcetti's proposal raise the minimum wage to $13.25 for all businesses in the city.

Speaking to supporters after the vote, council member Curren Price, who co-authored the ordinance, declared: "Congratulations! Now, on to the next one—citywide!"

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