Business groups opposing a recently approved City of Los Angeles ordinance extending the city’s “living wage” law to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)-area hotels have filed more than 100,000 petition signatures calling for a voter referendum to try to overturn the ordinance.

The Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and several other business groups, including the Hotel Association of Los Angeles, submitted approximately 103,000 petition signatures Friday, December 29th — more than double the 49,000 signatures needed to force a citywide referendum, an Office of the City Clerk spokesman said.

The Los Angeles City Council approved in November the “living wage” ordinance and two other ordinances intended to improve conditions for workers at hotels along the Century Boulevard Corridor in Westchester.

The legislation will require the hotels to pay service workers $9.39 per hour with health benefits or $10.64 per hour without.

Business groups in opposition to the new legislation say that it improperly extends the city’s living wage law and other provisions to private sector employers that don’t have contracts with the city.

After Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa signed the ordinances into law in late November, the groups began their effort to challenge the legislation through a voter referendum, but they say they intend to challenge only the living wage requirement of the ordinance package.

Gary Toebben, chief executive of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, said the business groups have called for a referendum on the issue because the City Council “does not have the right to mandate how private employers should run their business.”

“We believe this ordinance is a step in the wrong direction,” Toebben said. “It sends a signal to growing businesses that Los Angeles is not the right location for them.”

The ordinances were scheduled to go into effect December 30th, but with the number of petition signatures submitted by the business groups on the December 29th deadline, the legislation is expected to be delayed.

If the petition signatures are certified and the City Council does not rescind its approval of the legislation, the issue will most likely be placed on the city general election ballot Tuesday, May 15th.

Toebben said the business groups were not surprised that they were able to gather double the number of signatures needed for the referendum in less than 30 days.

“The reaction we received from the business community in the L.A. area has been unanimous,” Toebben said.

He said it cost about $800,000 to gather the more than 100,000 signatures and the business groups expect to spend millions more in the subsequent campaign.

James Elmendorf of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, a group that has helped spearhead the living wage effort, said he, too, was not surprised at the number of signatures collected, given the amount of money the business groups spent on their effort.

“It’s unfortunate that the business community, rather than pay decent wages to the workers, have elected to spend nearly a million dollars to put the issue on the ballot and four to five million more for the campaign,” Elmendorf said.

Toebben said the chamber expects that when the living wage issue is on the ballot, the voters will choose to override the City Council decision.

But Elmendorf said he is confident the voters “will support the living wage” come election time.

The Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy plans to continue raising public awareness on the issue while the hotel workers continue their efforts to improve their working conditions, he said.

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