Living wage aid to workers, others

first_img AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWhicker: John Jackson greets a Christmas that he wasn’t sure he’d see160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! `S? se puede” (Yes, we can) chanted the hotel workers in a recent meeting at the Los Angeles City Council. Workers were applauding the council’s vote that will require hotels near Los Angeles International Airport to pay a “living wage” of at least $10.64 an hour. These hotels benefit from the presence of the airport, which is a public facility, and therefore the city government can exert influence on business activities, including wages. More than 120 American cities have passed living-wage laws, often to force companies with government contracts to pay decent salaries. But in some cases, these living-wage laws have also applied to companies which have no government contracts. Typically, this occurred in union-friendly, liberal cities such as San Francisco, Berkeley and Washington, D.C. Business owners hate these laws because they see the government telling them what to do. Executives in Los Angeles claim that many hotel workers already make the living wage, between salaries and tips. In addition, business is concerned that this kind of legislation may apply to other services, such as restaurants and stores. The impact of these living-wage laws penetrates other salaries. So it’s not just the people at the very bottom that benefit. Business is concerned that other employees who now make $10 an hour will also ask for raises. Of course, raising wages increases the cost of doing business, and corporations are concerned that in the long run, money will be lost to other cities which do not have living wages. The other reason why businesses oppose living-wage laws is that they are typically pushed by unions and are perceived as victories for organized labor. Yet these laws are necessary because the cost of living in many American cities, especially Los Angeles, is so high that without a living wage, it’s impossible to make ends meet, particularly when you consider that the minimum wage hovers around $6 an hour. It’s particularly difficult when many low-wage jobs don’t even include health benefits. Union officials claim that as many as 60 percent of hotel workers make less than $10 an hour. The L.A. City Council vote was a victory for hotel workers, but to some extent also for the unions which have been trying to organize workers. In the case of hotel workers near LAX, unions have been trying to organize workers, but so far have had limited success. The passage of the living-wage law may help them. In fact, unions have some close allies on the Los Angeles City Council. Two of them were arrested along with several hundred other demonstrators when they participated in a civil-disobedience demonstration which aimed to highlight the plight of hotel workers. Hotels affected may not be taking the City Council action standing down. There is some talk about collecting signatures and putting the matter in the hands of voters. If enough signatures are collected, the ordinance would not take effect until after the result of the election. The midterm 2006 election, which gave Democrats majorities in both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, is another indication that workers will receive some help from legislators in the coming year. One of the items in the Democratic agenda is raising the federal minimum wage, which is currently $5.15 an hour, a figure which is lower than that of many European countries. In addition, someone making the minimum wage in the U.S. does not typically receive health benefits, which is not the case in Europe. The ordinance passed by the Los Angeles City Council is a positive step, since it means people may have a chance at more reasonable life through a living wage. It also means that raises people might get will be spent, generating more economic activity, which will in turn benefit business – the same business that always opposes raises for their workers. Domenico Maceri teaches foreign languages at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria. Contact him through his Web site,