Hotel workers have filed a class action lawsuit against the Hilton Los Angeles Airport alleging that the hotel used a subcontractor to hire them and other employees in an effort to avoid paying them the city’s “living wage.”

The civil complaint filed in Los Angeles Superior Court Tuesday, June 15th alleges that the Century Boulevard Corridor hotel, the second largest in Los Angeles, violated the Airport Hospitality Enhancement Zone ordinance by paying subcontract employees far less than housekeepers and other workers who are hired directly by the hotel.

The ordinance, which was signed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in 2007, expanded the city’s “living wage” requirement to Los Angeles International Airport-area hotels, many of which opposed the law arguing they do not have contracts with the city.

Under the ordinance, the airport-area hotels are required to pay workers $11.55 per hour or $10.30 per hour with benefits, but the Hilton LAX has allegedly paid housekeepers and other workers hired through the employment agency, Norma’s Corporation, between $8 and $8.50 an hour, said Marc Coleman, attorney for the plaintiffs. Rather than hiring housekeepers directly, the Hilton LAX has contracted with Norma’s Corporation to hire employees who perform similar duties to permanent hotel employees but are not paid the living wage, the lawsuit charges.

The complaint, filed on behalf of about 150 current and former employees, seeks to compensate the workers for lost pay, which totals approximately $1 million over the past two years, Coleman said.

“Imagine if employers could avoid hiring employees and paying a living wage by hiring subcontractors — the whole thing goes up in smoke,” Coleman said of the alleged circumvention of the living wage ordinance.

The housekeepers contracted through the employment agency are supervised and trained by the hotel, provided with uniforms and given room keys to perform the same work as those hired by the hotel, Coleman said. But by using the subcontractor, the Hilton LAX has been able to evade federal laws that require making contributions for social security, unemployment and disability benefits, the attorney accused.

The lawsuit additionally alleges that the hotel has been aware of the living wage requirements but has nevertheless violated them. Coleman noted that the law clearly does not allow employers to subcontract jobs that are performed by permanent employees as a way of not paying the living wage.

“This suit is about bringing attention to the ways that this hotel and employment agency have jointly reaped profits from the exploitation of low-wage workers,” Coleman stated. “The Hilton must be held accountable.”

Officials at the Hilton Los Angeles Airport could not be reached for comment on the class action suit.

Coleman said the city passed the living wage ordinance and spent a significant amount of money in efforts to improve the Century Boulevard Corridor where the hotels are situated, and in exchange, they expect that the hotels will give their workers enough money to live on.

“We want them to live up to their legal obligation to pay these workers properly,” he said.

City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents the LAX area in the 11th District, said the city extended the benefits of the State Enterprise Zone to the Century Corridor to allow the hotels to have the tools they need to prosper, noting that the Hilton LAX is receiving employment tax credits of $37,400 per employee and a 35 percent utility reduction through the Department of Water and Power. He stressed that it is the law for the hotel to pass on the living wage benefit to its employees and their families.

“This issue is not about labor versus management. This is not about taking from the hotels and giving to the workers,” Rosendahl said.

“This is about ending an injustice for thousands of working families, and about doing the right thing. We won’t rest until the LAX Hilton has followed through with its obligations and complied with the law.”

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