Airline caterer sues Los Angeles over order to pay a 'living wage'

An airline catering company has sued the city of Los Angeles to challenge an order that the company pay a "living wage" to 271 of its employees, dating back to 2010.

Flying Food Group Pacific, located at the Los Angeles International Airport, filed the suit in Los Angeles Superior Court on Monday, saying the city previously had ruled that the company was in compliance with the city's living wage ordinance.

David Cotton, chief executive of the company, said Flying Food reached an agreement with the city's Office of Contract Compliance in 2013 to pay the living wage, roughly $15 an hour in combined wages and benefits, to only a handful of employees who take prepared meals to the planes at LAX.

Based on the agreement, he said Flying Food was under the impression that the higher salaries were not required for the employees who prepare the meals in the company's facility.

"It is puzzling to us that after years of meeting the city's previously agreed to conditions, the OCC is now contending that Flying Food Pacific is violating" the living wage ordinance, Cotton said.

In a statement, City Atty. Mike Feuer said he plans to enforce the wage law and "ensure that workers are paid the monies they are owed."

The city's order, announced in May, called for Flying Food to pay the higher wage to 271 employees, retroactively to 2010. A representative for a labor union that pressed for the higher wages estimated that the order would cost Flying Food Group at least $8 million.

Cotton said he believes the city has changed its position on the previous agreement only after the union, Unite Here, organized protests and efforts to unionize the workers.

"The city's recent actions can only be understood as acquiescence to the pressure from a union trying to get new members," Cotton said.

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