Santa Monica OKs 'Living Wage' Law

John Halle john.halle at
Fri May 25 10:07:44 PDT 2001

This is what you get if you elect Greens-i.e the minimum of what you should expect from local government. (Interesting that the Times manages to leave this fact out.)


Santa Monica OKs 'Living Wage' Law

Labor: The City Council approves $10.50 an hour minimum for employees

of large businesses set near the beach.

By OSCAR JOHNSON, BOB POOL, Times Staff Writers

The Santa Monica City Council approved a long-debated "living

wage" ordinance early Wednesday that would raise the hourly minimum

pay to $10.50 for workers at an estimated 40 large businesses in the

city's popular beachfront and downtown districts.

Backers rejoiced over what experts say is a national precedent

involving such a municipally approved wage increase for private

industry and said the move will help hundreds of workers support their

families. But opponents, especially oceanfront hotels, said the fight

is not over and pledged a court challenge over the measure's


The 5-1 vote was cast at 2 a.m. after a seven-hour hearing. But

that just capped years of complicated battles of ideology and economic


"It's a real huge milestone," said Madeline Janis-Aparicio,

executive director of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, one

of the groups pushing for the living wage. "Oh my goodness, we are

ecstatic. We have been working on it for three years."

Some changes were made during the long night of debate. The

biggest one reduced the number of businesses that would have to abide

by the ordinance, much of which would go into effect in July 2002.

Originally, businesses with annual gross revenues of more than $3

million for two consecutive years would have been included, but that

threshold was raised to $5 million. As a result, the estimated number

of businesses potentially affected dropped from 72 to about 40,

officials said.

"We made moderate compromises that will very significantly

improve the lot of low-wage service workers in Santa Monica's tourism

zone while protecting a vibrant business environment," Councilman

Kevin McKeown said.

Voting against the ordinance was Councilman Herb Katz, who

blasted it for singling out specific neighborhoods.

"It will end up in court," Katz said Wednesday, echoing what many

predict. "This is totally discriminatory in that it only affects the

coastal zone."

Opponents of the ordinance argue that most of the city's hotel

workers, such as maids, already average about $9.50 an hour. And they

say that food servers in high-end hotels make about $500 a week in

tips and additional unclaimed income.

The state minimum wage is set to rise 50 cents to $6.75 in


"You have government interfering in private enterprise, imposing

wages that are way above federal and state standards," said Holiday

Inn manager Bob Buescher.

In addition, the affected businesses also must contribute toward

health benefits to the tune of $1.75 per hour; that benefit subsidy

would rise to $2.50 the next year. The ordinance also forbids

retaliation against workers who blow the whistle on bosses who fail to

comply with the law.

Exemptions will be allowed for businesses that have an economic

hardship or a work force that consists mainly of minors or seasonal

workers. Details for the exemptions will be worked out by a task force

in the near future.

Various so-called living wage ordinances exist in about 50 U.S.

cities, experts say. But those have mainly been aimed at businesses

that rely on government contracts or operate on government-owned land.

Santa Monica's version targets large private businesses that do not

have such contracts and that are on private property in specific


Backers argue that businesses in those neighborhoods have

benefited from the city's tourism promotion and from millions of

dollars in tax-funded beach, pier and street renovations.

"It's the first time that I know of that it's been applied to

workers that aren't contracted by a city or county," said Heather

Boushey, an economist for the Economic Policy Institute, a

Washington-based think tank that has not taken part in the wage


The $10.50 an hour is probably the third- or fourth-highest such

municipally set wage in the nation, Boushey added.

Supporters hope to influence other cities.

"I think we have crafted a very innovative ordinance that could

have impact throughout the country," said Vivian Rothstein, a member

of Santa Monicans Allied for Responsible Tourism, which supports the

wage increase.

The council meeting attracted a large crowd of ordinance

supporters and disgruntled businesspeople. But by the time the vote

was cast, the crowd had dwindled from hundreds to a few onlookers.

Le Merigot Hotel General Manager Sig Ortloff predicted layoffs

will result from the forced higher wage. "I don't want to be an

alarmist, but I might have to let go about 25 people--about 10% of my

work force," he said.

Although living wage supporters got most of what they wanted,

some argued that $10.69 should have been the wage floor.

Among those attending the meeting Wednesday morning was Elva

Hernandez. After 11 years working at the Doubletree Hotel, she makes

$12 an hour but supports the new wage for the housekeepers she

supervises, and because she said there are no health benefits.

"At my workplace they do not pay very well and things are

expensive, like rent, food and health insurance," she said.

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