(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.