Two hotel industry groups sue L.A. over minimum wage hike

Two hotel industry groups sue L.A. over minimum wage hike
Jim Dunn, right, the owner of Airtel Plaza Hotel and who opposes the planned minimum wage hike, is outnumbered by supporters in yellow shirts at an L.A. City Council meeting in September. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Two industry groups sued Los Angeles on Tuesday over its planned minimum wage at larger hotels, saying it would cause "irreparable harm" and run afoul of federal labor law.

The American Hotel and Lodging Assn. and the Asian American Hotel Owners Assn. said the city's law, which imposes a $15.37 minimum wage, improperly interferes with labor relations, tipping the scales in favor of unions. The law has national implications for the hospital industry, which wants to keep other cities from adopting similar rules.


"If L.A. does this, other large cities will see it as something sensible for them to do," attorney Michael Starr said.

The wage law allows unionized hotels to be exempted from paying the minimum wage if workers agree in their contract to relinquish that opportunity. That provision, Starr said, will pressure hotel managers to give in to demands from labor leaders on the process used to let workers join a union.

The groups want to block enforcement of the law, approved by the City Council in September. The measure is set to go into effect in July for hotels with at least 300 rooms and expand a year later to hotels with at least 150 rooms.

Backers of the measure said it would prevent hotel workers from having to take second jobs that keep them from seeing their families. They also argue that the hotels in Los Angeles have benefited from city efforts to boost the tourism industry.

Councilman Curren Price, who backed the hotel wage measure, said he expects the city to prevail in court. A representative of Unite Here Local 11, the hotel workers' union, said legal challenges to a similar wage ordinance at hotels near Los Angeles International Airport did not succeed.

"It's a shame some hotel owners would rather spend money on lawyers than paying hard-working employees a decent wage," said Ada Briceno, the union's secretary-treasurer.

Hotel officials also distributed emails showing city lawyers worked closely with union allies, mainly the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, while drafting the hotel wage law.

In a June email, attorney Richard McCracken, who represents Unite Here, supplied some of the language used by city lawyers to write the ordinance. The following week, a deputy city attorney asked a staffer with the alliance and registered lobbyist James Elmendorf to review some of the wording. Elmendorf suggested removing a passage that said the wage hike could have "potential negative effects." That language was not in the final version.

The deputy city attorney also asked Elmendorf for legal cases to help the city defend against possible challenges.

The emails are "extremely troubling," said Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry & Commerce Assn., which opposed the wage law. "It's clear that the labor union that benefited most from this ordinance had a hand in drafting it."

Elmendorf said he provides help with research to "many in the city family." McCracken said it's common for labor unions and others to draft legislation they support.

Rob Wilcox, spokesman for City Atty. Mike Feuer, said the office regularly receives input from stakeholders when drafting laws. "The bottom line is that as a result of all our efforts we are confident the ordinance is lawful," he said.

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