L.A. Hotel

The L.A. Downtown Hotel, formerly the Los Angeles Downtown Marriott.

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - Los Angeles politicians have a history of being a progressive bunch and have often reflected the greater sensibilities of the city. The recently enacted ban on single-use plastic bags at supermarkets is one such example. 

Now the progressive proclivity is apparent again, this time in a City Council move, perhaps sincere, to increase the minimum wage in the city’s largest hotels. Last week, the council took steps that could ultimately force hotels with more than 100 rooms — a level that includes many Downtown establishments — to pay workers at least $15.37 an hour. California’s minimum wage is $8 (although it will soon rise to $9).

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Such a wage hike would be huge, nearly 100% over the current state minimum, and not surprisingly it has ignited opposition from those who say that the government should not be deciding what private entities pay their employees, though of course minimum wage does that already. Additionally, initial assertions from the private sector were that any such wage increase could hamper business, and potentially lead to some layoffs or a cutback in services.

Ostensibly in response to the objections, the council opted quickly not to implement the wage increase, but rather to study it. 

At this point there are many questions, such as why one industry is being targeted. While this page does not support greed, it’s pretty clear that singling out the hotels does not pass the smell test. Have the hotels not donated enough to the politicians, in the opinion of the politicians? Or are the council members’ ties to organized labor so cozy that they could not say no to a strongly desired move? This feels more like a power play, or negotiating in the press, than a real proposal.

In the past, city leaders successfully required hotels near LAX to raise their wages on the philosophy that those hotels earned healthy profits off the city-owned airport. Although many visitors arrive in L.A. via the airport, it is a far cry to say that all hotels, including those in Downtown, have that same reliance on LAX.

If this is an honest proposal, the best thing may be for a comprehensive study that examines the impacts of $15.37 an hour, along with other pay rates. Before the council makes any move, there should be reliable reports on how the wage hike would impact workers and a hotel’s bottom line, and what it would mean for rates charged to visitors.

We believe that people deserve to earn a fair wage that allows them to provide for their families, but we’re wary of the council determining pay in the private sector beyond what state law requires. If this measure passes it could prove precedent-setting, and perhaps an emboldened council would then decide to dictate what restaurant workers earn. Or those in another field. That’s a frightening thought.

As referenced above, organized labor is important here. The current proposal is that the wage increase would not apply at union shops. That could be interpreted as a council move to propel unionization in hotels. Again we are faced with the smell test.

If this proposal is genuine, which we doubt, the best move is to proceed very carefully, thoroughly and sincerely. Conduct the study and then share and explore the results in a transparent manner. If there is reason to increase the base hotel wage to $15.37 an hour, then we need to see real proof.

© Los Angeles Downtown News 2014