Hotels near Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) will be required to pay their service workers a “living wage” as part of a package of ordinances that has received preliminary approval from the Los Angeles City Council.

The City Council voted 11-3 Wednesday, November 15th, to extend the city living wage law to airport-area hotels along the Century Boulevard Corridor in Westchester.

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

Two related ordinances in the package will enable workers to keep their jobs for at least 90 days after a hotel changes ownership, and will require the hotels to pass along all service fees automatically charged for large events directly to the service workers.

The two ordinances also received preliminary approval from the City Council, which voted 13-1 for the measures.

The package of ordinances must still receive final approval to take effect. The City Council was scheduled to take a final vote on the ordinance package Wednesday, November 22nd.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has indicated he will sign the ordinances into law following the second council vote.

Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl called the council vote to approve the living wage ordinance “historic,” saying the move will put the airport-area hotel workers “in a much stronger position than they were in before.”

“These people work real hard and if we pay them a living wage they get a better positive atmosphere,” Rosendahl said. “The living wage for the hotel workers is a matter of social justice as well as a matter of good business sense.

“Treating workers fairly and improving working conditions will benefit hotels and drive economic activity along Century Boulevard.”

Officials with the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, a group that helped spearhead the living wage effort, said the vote makes Los Angeles the nation’s largest city to require employers who don’t have contracts or leases with the city to pay their workers a living wage.

The mostly immigrant workers at the 13 hotels on Century Boulevard near LAX currently earn wages that are 20 percent less than at hotels in downtown Los Angeles, according to the Alliance for a New Economy.

“The council made a good decision in recognizing the need to raise the workers out of poverty,” said James Elmendorf, Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy senior policy analyst. “Century Corridor hotel workers de- serve decent wages and we’re glad that the City Council is making sure that happens.”

While the living wage ordinance will help improve the working conditions for the employees by giving them “extra money in their pocket every week,” there is still more to be done in the effort, he said.

“It’s a good first step but there’s more to work on,” Elmendorf said.

Supporters of the ordinances said the hotels should be required to pay service workers a living wage because they benefit from being close to city-owned LAX.

But several city business groups have expressed strong opposition, saying the ordinance could be applied to other industries in the city.

The City Council approved a motion November 15th to limit the ordinances only to the LAX-area hotels.

Some business groups in opposition called the City Council vote in favor of the ordinances “the most anti-business vote of the year,” saying that it improperly extends the city’s living wage law and other provisions to private sector employers with no contractual obligations to the city.

“The City Council fails to understand the terrible message this sends to businesses, especially those who could create new jobs in Los Angeles,” said Gary Toebben, Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce president and chief executive officer. “They shouldn’t tell private companies that have no contractual relationship with the city how to run their business.”

The city’s living wage law was designed for businesses that have contracts with the city but was “never designated for private businesses,” said Cindy Boulton, general manager of the LAX Radisson hotel.

Hotel and business industry groups have said they plan to gather signatures for a referendum to allow the public to vote on the new law.

“Our plans are to move forward with a referendum,” Boulton said. “We want to put the voice back in the people’s hands.”

The living wage law comes as a local union representing hotel workers, Unite Here, continues its effort to organize the non-unionized hotels near LAX.

The effort has involved a number of demonstrations for hotel workers’ rights, including one that shut down Century Boulevard in September, when more than 200 protesters were arrested.

Some airport-area hotel workers praised the City Council for supporting their fight for better pay and working conditions, saying the living wage law will make a difference for them and their families.

“I’m so happy now,” said Miguel Vargas, a 15-year restaurant server at the LAX Hilton, adding that he has had to live paycheck to paycheck. “There will be a little extra money in my pocket that will make it better for my family.”

Maria Letona, a room service cashier at the LAX Hilton, agreed, saying she and her coworkers will now be able to provide more for their families.

“It was the best thing that could’ve happened,” Letona said of the living wage law. “It’s something we never expected to happen. It’s just amazing.”

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