In a previous column, I talked about the living wage movement; well, living wage is in the news again. As reported by LATimes.com, a judge recently rescinded a LAX hotels living wage ordinance passed by the L.A. City Council that would have guaranteed hotel workers (near LAX) wages of $9.39 per hour (with health benefits) or $10.64 without wages and benefits. Lawmakers passed a similar living wage ordinance last fall, but rescinded it after business leaders and hotel owners gathered over 50,000 signatures for a referendum, which would have allowed voters to decide the living wage issue.
In his decision, Superior Court Judge David P. Yaffe stated that, when city lawmakers rescinded the original ordinance and replaced it with a new one (very close to the original), they ignored the Los Angeles business community and "violated the constitutional rights of the public." According to LATimes.com, around 50 percent of the 3,500 workers at airport-area hotels earn salaries higher than the living wage. Most of the workers earn $7.25 an hour, the minimum wage of California. Workers say wage and salary adjustments and cost of living increases are not providing a living wage.
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Negotiations with regard to Living Wage Rates
The City Council’s ordinances to ensure living wages to airport-area hotel workers were significant, because living wages in Los Angeles previously applied only to employees of government contractors and other companies that had a direct financial relationship with the city. However, the City Council contends that because the airport area hotels benefit financially from LAX (one of the busiest airports in the world), these benefits from a public facility should be shared among the workers.
Living Wage Movement
The battle over living wage laws in the Los Angeles-area airport hotels has been a contentious one. Back in December of last year, HotelChatter.com reported that 16 hotel workers went on a weeklong hunger strike in front of the Westin Hotel near LAX in support of the living wage movement. Twelve of those hotel workers were fired from their jobs at the Four Points Sheraton LAX when new owners took possession of the hotel, only hours before the fast ended. The LAX Hilton also fired two workers who were living wage supporters; the hotel claims they were fired for other reasons.
Hotel Front Desk Workers and More
Hunger strikes and ordinances aside, how well do airport-area hotel workers’ wages measure up to the average pay of most hotel workers in Los Angeles?
According to PayScale data, an experienced hotel housekeeping aide/attendant/assistant in California earns a median hourly wage of $10.29, slightly less than the proposed $10.64 living wage. While we do not have much data, our median is consistent with 50% of employees currently earning a living wage.
An experienced Los Angeles area hotel, motel, or resort desk clerk earns an average hourly rate of $11.74, with a potential of earning $13.29 an hour. That is above the living wage number and housekeepers. Hotel front-desk workers have a variety of responsibilities: checking in/out guests, logging reservations, and dealing with numerous complaints. Thus, they usually earn more than housekeepers do.
Living Wage versus a Minimum Wage
An experienced Los Angeles-based baggage porter or bellhop earns an average hourly rate of $9.50 an hour, which is below the living wage and the housekeepers. However, these folks earn much of their money via tips, and can make more in total compensation than hotel front desk workers can.
Which brings up a point on the side of management: housekeeping staff who clean rooms and deliver room service can earn tips, which would help bring their wages in line with a living wage.
No doubt, this battle of wages between hotels and workers will continue, and probably end up on a ballot in the future. Until then, the LAX hotel workers who are not earning a living wage can at least take some comfort in the fact that they are making more than the federal minimum wage.
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Dr. Al Lee