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California

L.A. business groups threaten suit if city hikes hotel workers’ wage

Los Angeles business groups Tuesday ramped up threats to sue the city if it adopted a minimum wage requirement for big hotels.

The warnings came as a City Council committee unanimously endorsed the wage hike and sent it to the full council for a vote Wednesday. The plan would bring hourly wages for workers at large hotels to at least $15.37 — well above a $13.25-an-hour minimum Mayor Eric Garcetti is seeking for all L.A. workers in three years.

Hotel and business groups argue that the city has failed to provide a valid reason for singling out hotels. They also contend that the city is violating a 2007 law that hiked wages at hotels near Los Angeles International Airport. To address business concerns about that increase, city officials placed a series of conditions on any additional wage hikes.

The California Hotel & Lodging Assn. and other groups also warned Tuesday that the new ordinance appeared to violate the federal equal protection clause by unfairly targeting one industry group while sparing others.

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The business groups have retained lawyers to prepare for a potential lawsuit. If the wage proposal is approved by the council and mayor, opponents also might back a ballot measure that would establish a citywide minimum wage and rescind the wage increase for hotels, said Bob Amano, Hotel Assn. of Los Angeles executive director.

“Hotels will not just sit back and accept an ordinance that is unfair, that targets one industry,” he said.

Labor groups and lawmakers supporting the hotel wage measure say the hospitality industry has fared well financially and benefited from city subsidies. At a packed City Hall hearing Tuesday, hotel workers testified that higher pay could allow them to work one job instead of two, cover rising rent or buy toys for grandchildren.

“Even though those things may seem small, for me it will make a big difference,” said Salvador Tello, who works at a hotel near LAX.

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Hotel managers told council members that jobs would be lost if the measure was enacted.

“When you’re driving home today,” said Julie Robey, general manager of the Holiday Inn-Torrance in the city’s Harbor Gateway neighborhood, “think about the 12 employees at Holiday Inn-Torrance that would have to be laid off.”

The wage boost would begin in July for hotels with at least 300 rooms, and expand a year later to hotels with at least 150 rooms. The proposed rules would allow unionized hotels to be exempted from the higher wage, if workers explicitly waive it in a contract. Hotels that face severe financial hardships could also be exempted.

Two of three economic reports examining the hotel wage issue were not posted to a city website until the day before the vote, triggering complaints from business groups that the process was being rushed. Council President Herb Wesson called those complaints “delay tactics,” arguing that the reports could be easily reviewed “within 24 to 48 hours.”

County labor federation head Maria Elena Durazo sounded a similar theme, telling the council committee: “The time is now to vote and move on.”

One of the economic reports requested by the city found that the 2007 city-imposed wage boost near LAX had forced hotels to cut jobs. A second concluded that job growth there “under performed” after the wage rules went into effect.

But a third report said employment changes at the LAX-area hotels “essentially mirrored those across the city.” Councilman Curren Price argued that without a clear consensus, lawmakers had to make a decision based on their own beliefs.

“For me the path is clear,” Price said. “Thousands of hardworking men and women would be better off if we passed this policy.”

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emily.alpert@latimes.com

@LATimesEmily

david.zahniser@latimes.com

@DavidZahniser


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