L.A. Council to consider hiking minimum wage to $15.37 at big hotels

Los Angeles City Councilwoman Nury Martinez speaks at the National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles on Jan. 26. She is set to cosponsor an ordinance to raise the minimum wage for workers at major hotels.
(Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

Is Los Angeles ready for one of the highest minimum wages in America? Three City Council members will move this morning that the city study the economic impact of imposing a $15.37 living wage for workers in big hotels.

First, a little context:

Washington has the highest minimum wage currently imposed by any state, $9.19 an hour. The city of SeaTac, Wash., one-upped that by approving a $15 wage for workers at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport, although portions of the law were overturned in court.

In California, the state’s minimum wage is set at $8 an hour, due to reach $9 in July. But some cities in the state have topped that requirement. San Francisco employers must pay at least $10.74 an hour, a rate that bumps up with yearly cost-of-living increases.


But if the City Council goes ahead with an ordinance after an initial study, workers, workers in the city’s largest hotels would be entitled to receive higher minimum pay than in all those other jurisdictions -- $15.37 an hour.

Council members Nury Martinez, Curren Price and Mike Bonin plan to introduce the measure, first at a 9:30 a.m. news conference on the south steps of City Hall and then at the 10 a.m. council meeting.

The proposal has been anticipated for months, as the local hotel workers union, Unite Here, has been lining up business and political supporters. Hotel owners in recent weeks have been lobbying against the ordinance, arguing, among other things, that city officials previously promised a virtual “quarantine” on new wage controls.

In previewing Tuesday’s announcement, the council members sought to point out that it is not only liberals who are backing higher wages. Their news release quoted former gubernatorial candidate Ron Unz, a libertarian from the Silicon Valley and supporter of a $12 minimum by 2016, as saying a “living wage” would create “an enormous, permanent economic boom.”

The law would apply to 87 hotels that have 100 rooms or more. Backers plucked the $15.37 minimum figure from a 2009 law that raised minimum salaries for workers at Los Angeles International Airport. (The LAX minimum has increased with inflation and now stands at $15.67.)

Council members declined to comment in detail before Tuesday’s introduction of the proposal, though Bonin, who represents the Westside, has previously explained why he supported a significant pay increase.

“Economic justice and true economic growth go hand in hand,” he said, “and expanding the living wage to include all hotel workers in Los Angeles is both a moral and financial imperative for our city.”

Among the hotel industry’s rebuttals is that it is being targeted indiscriminately for regulation, while other businesses, and hotels in neighboring cities, must only meet the state’s base wage.

Bob Amano, executive director of the Hotel Assn. of Los Angeles, said city leaders cannot on one hand say they want businesses to invest here “and then on the other-hand arbitrarily decide to single out one industry, the backbone of tourism in Los Angeles, with restrictions and requirements that are not imposed on any other industry.”

Unite Here Local 11 previously released a study suggesting that the higher pay would pump more than $70 million annually into the city’s economy. The union and supporters on the City Council are prepared to present business people who back the $15 wage, including a Highland Park restaurateur.

Twitter: @latimesrainey