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.