You get the basics in high school. The federal government is divided into three branches (executive, legislative, judicial). Locally you’ve got the mayor and the city council. Etc. Most of us don’t graduate with enough knowledge so that as adults we truly grasp how even the most well-known governmental power structures really work (what percentage of Americans can actually explain the Electoral College?), let alone more obscure power centers.
The Long Beach Coalition for Good Jobs and a Healthy Community is aiming to redress this lack of knowledge through a series of Power Analysis Workshops (or PAWs), which the coalition says are intended “to build collective knowledge of the power of local government [, …] of where branches of government get their power, how they impact the community and how residents can ensure local government works for all residents.”
“It’s important that all residents are engaged in the political process and understand how the decisions their representatives make impact their daily lives,” says Christine Petit,
Barack Obama’s nomination of Penny Pritzker as Commerce Secretary was a poke in the eye of the American labor movement. The niece of the founder of the Hyatt Hotel chain and current member of the company’s board, Pritzker is a key player in what UNITE HERE calls “the worst hotel employer in America.”
But even if this appointment can be turned into a tactical advantage for the union campaign, the Pritzker family brand as notorious union busters has many progressives irritated or worse by Obama’s choice. (Recently workers at two Hyatts in Long Beach California won union representation after a tough three-year battle which included the passage of Proposition N,
Pastor Nestor Gerente welcomed the overflow audience of nearly 350 Long Beach activists at last week’s People’s State of the City gathering and said, “This is a great crowd. Where are you on Sunday mornings?”
The 23 organizations sponsoring the event, under the tent of the Long Beach Coalition for Good Jobs and a Healthy Community, are still buoyant from victory in last November’s election. That’s when Measure N, the Hotel Workers’ Minimum Wage Law, passed by 64 percent of the voters, raised wages to $13 an hour for some of the lowest paid hotel workers in L.A. County. The stunning triumph was made possible by a grassroots mobilization and door-to-door campaign of union and community members.
Grace United Methodist Church’s beautiful sanctuary was filled with people of every racial and ethnic background now living in California’s seventh largest city. Long Beach has nearly half a million residents —
On Sunday the Los Angeles Times published a story about the important successes of campaigns to pass local minimum wage and living wage laws. However, while highlighting new developments that will impact local economies and the lives of workers, the Times missed the real story and forces behind this growing trend.
The piece focused on two ballot-box victories for living wage laws: a minimum wage for hotel workers in Long Beach and a citywide minimum wage increase in San Jose.
“The victories put these two California cities on the cusp of an emerging trend,” wrote Wesley Lowery. “Ballot initiatives, labor experts say, have the potential to rewrite labor’s playbook for how to win concessions from management.” Throughout the piece, Lowery presented the minimum wage ballot measures as a tactic put in place and managed from behind the scenes by labor leaders.
Sustainable economies are built on good jobs. If people don’t earn enough money, they can’t keep the economy growing by buying goods and services.
This basic fact is lost on opponents of minimum-wage increases, who for decades have been arguing that these pay hikes hurt businesses, cause job loss and therefore are bad for the economy.
Repetition of an argument might keep it in the news, but it doesn’t make it factually credible. So it is with minimum-wage rejectionists, who have succeeded in getting at least equal time for their assertions with every proposed wage increase, even though their claims have been debunked over and over again.
It is no surprise, then, that the Reason Foundation’s Adam Summers in his op-ed in the Business Journal predicts dire consequences if California were to increase its minimum wage law (“Higher Minimum Wage Will Lower Job Prospects,” February 11).
On November 6, Long Beach voters overwhelmingly approved a minimum wage for hotel workers in their city. The law guarantees that these workers will be paid about $2,000 a month for full-time work and receive five paid sick days a year. (Fact sheet.)
These modest provisions would help hotel workers and their families, while boosting the economy for everyone in Long Beach. The hotels, many of which are owned by wealthy out-of-state corporations, have been thriving and could easily afford to pay the minimum wage while maintaining healthy profits. However, they are doing everything in their power to thwart the will of the voters and punish their own employees – putting a few extra dollars of profit ahead of the interests of Long Beach residents and businesses, as well as the lives of hotel workers’
As the economy slowly rebounds, we need to ask what kind of recovery we want in Los Angeles.
Experts point to tourism as a key industry poised to help drive recovery and growth in our region. The potential is certainly there. Tourism is the largest employer in Los Angeles, accounting for one in ten jobs. And hotels in particular have recovered past pre-recession levels, with projections for strong growth. Industry analysts PFK Hospitality Research forecast revenue per available room in Los Angeles to grow by an average of 5.6 percent per year over the next five years – on top of an 11.7 percent increase this year. (For comparison, the long-run average is 3.3 percent.)
However, jobs in hospitality and tourism come in very different shapes. Some of our large hotels succeed while paying good middle-class wages and benefits. Others offer only poverty jobs that leave workers struggling to support themselves,
Every year I watch A Christmas Carol on TV to remind myself not to give in to the frustrations born of shopping, traffic and rushing from one holiday gathering to the next. Whether we are religious or not, the holiday season is an opportunity for all of us to be grateful for what we have and to share our good fortune and good will.
Oh yes, it’s a timely story, but I’ve also often taken comfort in the fact that it’s a story from a bygone era—19th century England, with all the horrors of the economic injustice characteristic of the pre-union Industrial Revolution. Thank God we’ve progressed to a better time than that!
Or have we? Imagine my surprise when I heard about the response of some Long Beach hotel owners to that city’s new living wage law for workers at the city’s largest hotels (100 rooms or more).
A year or so ago, while picking up socks off of the living room floor, and considering the innumerable tasks of being a single parent, I exclaimed to my kids, “You know what? We think what we need is more money, but what we really need is community.”
It occurred to me that I was upset about my money flow, but I was equally upset about the growing sense of isolation that comes with a lack of connectedness with the people in my apartment complex, my street and my city.
Little did I know that those words that tumbled from my mouth would soon be so prophetic for me and the community I live in.
A long-time resident of Long Beach, I was raised in a multicultural working class neighborhood in the city. We weren’t rich–Dad is a military veteran and Mom worked for the phone company–but my family owned their home and impressed upon us a strong work ethic.
Looking back on the eight weeks of the Long Beach living wage campaign, I could write about the conversations with voters, or the discovery of neighborhoods in a city I thought I knew like the back of my hand. I could go on and on about those I got to know through the canvassing work, the friendships that started and blossomed over the two months that went by so quickly.
But the real story is how we strengthened community in the city of Long Beach.
Yes, in the spring 35,000 people signed petitions supporting the workers in Long Beach’s largest hotels, helping them get one step closer to fair pay, sick leave and tip protection by placing Measure N on the ballot. And this fall not only did we get support from six city council members, we passed Measure N with the support of 63 percent of voters.
(On November 6, Long Beach became one of three cities in the country to pass minimum wage ballot measures, and the only one to guarantee paid sick leave to workers. This story is the second in a weeklong series of reflections on that important victory.)
Numbers never lie – that was our mantra at the Yes on Measure N headquarters. Canvassers for the hotel living wage law would come back talking about how a voter just wouldn’t give them the time of day, or how the 100-degree weather dragged on their hustle. And we would respond, “Well, numbers don’t lie.” This was just our way of saying, some days are good, some days are harder, but come the end of the campaign numbers will tell the true story of our hard work. And while I don’t want to oversimplify how we won,
Two thousand workers who clean the rooms and serve the food at hotels in Long Beach, California had special cause for celebration election night. They will finally earn a living wage and be able take a sick day without risking a paycheck or a job.
“I have said all along that the second thing I would do when Measure N passes is take my family off of public assistance,” said Maria Patlan, a 10-year housekeeper in Long Beach’s hotel industry. “But the first thing I will do is a dance of joy.”
Maria and scores of workers like her helped lead the diverse Long Beach coalition that organized for months to pass the ballot initiative that became known as Measure N. It establishes a minimum wage of $13/hr (about $2,000 a month) in Long Beach’s hotels employing 100 or more, guarantees workers can earn five sick days a year and protects their tips.
Something extraordinary happened Tuesday in Long Beach. A city long dominated by an ideologically driven business sector and marked by token community participation, embraced a living wage measure. With a resounding 63 percent of the voters in favor of Measure N, we can clearly state that the Long Beach community stood in favor of fairness and justice November 6. From a practical perspective it means lifting 2,000 Long Beach workers above the poverty line, perhaps a two-bedroom apartment for a family of four, or the “luxury” of taking a paid day off to attend to a sick child or relative. It also lays the foundation for renewed economic growth by providing additional income that will be recycled through the Long Beach economy.
How did this happen in a city controlled by business interests who said a living wage should not, could not and would not pass? By acknowledging four things:
(This opinion piece first appeared in today’s Los Angeles Times.)
The U.S. economy has turned a corner. The national unemployment rate hit a post-recession low of 7.8 percent in September. Rising consumer confidence, increasing home prices and other leading economic indicators confirm the trend.
Unemployment is still too high, but a focus on the number of jobs obscures a serious long-term crisis of declining wages and a shrinking middle class that is having a harder and harder time making ends meet. New jobs pay less, raises are rare and benefits even rarer. According to a National Employment Law Project study released in August, the majority of new jobs created in the last two years pay just $13.83 an hour or less. Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz recently said, “Increasing inequality means a weaker economy” for all of us.
Seven million dollars may not sound like a lot to some large corporations, but that amount of money brought into the Long Beach economy each year could mean an economic boost to many people – restaurant owners and car repair shops, landlords and dentists, barbers and beauty salons, shoe stores and bike shops. Seven million dollars is the amount of money that economists at the Economic Roundtable estimate would flow into the Long Beach economy in the first year if Measure N passes and 2,000 hotel workers get a $13/hour minimum wage.
As a result of the wage increase, Measure N will bring in approximately $800,000 per year in increased state and local taxes to help run Long Beach’s schools, pave its streets and help pay for police and firefighters, among other things. And it is estimated that the increased spending power of the affected hotel workers could result in an estimated 85 local jobs created to support their buying power and the economic activity it could generate.
The opponents of the proposed Long Beach Living Wage are just getting organized. They’ve run an ad on Craigslist offering “a very competitive hourly wage” of $15 an hour to fight a measure that would guarantee a modest $13 an hour and five sick days for about 2,000 workers –housekeepers, cooks, dishwashers and janitors — who labor in the largest Long Beach hotels. I find it ironic that the opponents of Measure N themselves are offering more than the Living Wage proposal would mandate, clearly aware that $13 an hour isn’t a high enough wage to attract even part-time workers. Yet their campaign messages suggest the hotel Living Wage could do drastic damage to the city’s economy.
“We’re going to reach out to the residents of Long Beach at the grassroots level, neighbor to neighbor and relay our message- No on N,” says the job posting. If theirs were truly a grassroots campaign they would have plenty of community volunteers lined up to talk to Long Beach voters.
So begins the conversation with undecided voters about the Long Beach living wage measure on the November ballot.
Most Long Beach hotel workers live, work and shop in the city. And if the hotel living wage passes, they’ll have more money to put into the Long Beach economy.
More than 100 volunteers and supporters gathered last Saturday to pick up information packets and start knocking on local doors. It was hot in the church classroom where they assembled, but the mood was electric.
More than 140 small business owners are supporting Measure N, as are local religious leaders and city council members Suja Lowenthal and Steve Neal.
College students and retired folks, LGBT activists, Cambodian youth organizers, religious leaders and politicians were all excited to be working together to change conditions for the city’s 2,000 hotel workers and to shake up the political environment in Long Beach.