Long Beach Hotel Workers To Earn Highest Minimum Wage

Portside Date:
Author: Mark Kreidler
Date of source:
Capital and Main

Part of the Los Angeles region’s “hot labor summer” of 2023 was a growing recognition that the runaway cost of living was squeezing workers and families. It was perhaps the primary driver of the rolling strikes by unionized workers at 60 area hotels during contract negotiations, with many of those negotiations ongoing.

But bargaining-table pressure and picket lines are not the only mechanisms for addressing this issue. And voters in Long Beach have likely just approved another path.

Measure RW, on which Long Beach residents voted during last week’s primary, significantly raises the minimum wage for workers at Long Beach hotels with more than 100 rooms. Election results are not final, but according to the latest Los Angeles County returns, the measure will pass with 53% approval. It’s a major win for those hotel workers and the groups that pushed for the measure.

The affected workers will see the minimum wage rise from the current $17.55 per hour to $23 in July, then escalate annually to $29.50 by the time of the 2028 Olympics in and around Los Angeles. The measure guarantees Long Beach hotel workers the highest minimum wage in the nation, according to the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, or LAANE.

LAANE was one of several groups that conducted a boots-on-the-ground campaign in favor of the measure, knocking on an estimated 104,000 doors, making 100,000 calls and meeting with about 20,000 Long Beach voters. The election returns indicate that RW will win by a margin of roughly 4,000 votes in a depressed voter turnout.

“Long Beach is leading the way,” said Ada Briceño, co-president of UNITE HERE Local 11, which also campaigned for the measure. “When workers in Long Beach do better, the whole city thrives.”

Briceño’s union represents some 15,000 hotel workers across the Los Angeles region – including many in Long Beach — who began arduous negotiations with their hotels last summer. While UNITE HERE has reached agreement with two Hyatt properties in Long Beach, it remains locked in a bitter and at times violent dispute with the Hotel Maya there. (Disclosure: UNITE HERE is a financial supporter of Capital & Main.)

Measure RW potentially raises the floor for such negotiations, and not for the first time in Long Beach. Voters there approved a measure in 2012 that raised hotel workers’ minimum wage to $13, and the minimum has slowly crept upward since then — though nowhere near keeping pace with the spiking costs of housing, food and transportation.

Supporters of RW included a coalition of small business owners in Long Beach, who cited statistics showing that when local workers get a raise in wages, they spend more money locally. That money, too, tends to stay in town; the Downtown Long Beach Alliance has estimated that every dollar spent in a local business generates about 40 cents in additional “spillover” revenue on items like parking, eating and shipping.

“We understand the fundamental relationship between workers’ wages and the health of our local economy,” Long Beach business owners Tom Reed and Jorge Valdez wrote in the days before the March 5 election. “Hotel workers are our neighbors and customers of the city’s small businesses; when they make a living wage, the money circulates back into the city and we all do better.”

Opponents of the measure, including the Los Angeles County Business Federation, said RW was rushed to the ballot without sufficient economic impact study. They also objected to what they called a “special interest loophole,” a reference to the fact that unionized hotels may waive the minimum while negotiating their deals.

But initiatives like RW help set parameters for meaningful negotiations, which is especially attractive in an era of hotel consolidation by mega-corporations like Hyatt, Hilton and Marriott. While unions are allowed to waive the provision under RW, there is no practical scenario under which they’d accept less than the voter-approved minimum.

“The Long Beach community, once again, stood with workers in their fight for family-sustaining wages,” Grecia Lopez-Reyes, campaign director of Long Beach for a Just Economy, said in a statement. “This is a major victory for working families in Long Beach.”

These sorts of local measures may become critically important in the years ahead. A report released this week by the state Legislative Analyst’s Office concluded that workers earning California’s $16 an hour minimum wage will struggle to afford housing almost anywhere in the state. It also noted that some of the state’s highest-cost areas don’t have enhanced local minimums to address that obvious problem.

Measure RW isn’t a citywide minimum; it is directed at a specific subset of workers. But those workers are part of a massive economic driver for Long Beach, with an estimated $1.8 billion annual impact citywide from tourism and hospitality. And it may well serve as a blueprint for voters in other cities looking for ways to keep lower-wage workers, the backbone of so many businesses, as part of vibrant local economies.

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Source URL: https://portside.org/2024-03-19/long-beach-hotel-workers-earn-highest-minimum-wage