Editorials | Issues | January 2007
|A Living Wage?|
Domenico Maceri - PVNN
“Sí se puede” (Yes, we can) chanted the hotel workers in a recent meeting at the Los Angeles City Council. Workers were applauding the council’s vote which will require hotels near Los Angeles International Airport to pay a “living wage” of at least $10.64 an hour.
These hotels benefit from the presence of the airport which is a public facility and therefore the city government can exert influence on business activities, including wages.
More than 120 American cities have passed living wage laws, often to force companies with government contracts to pay decent salaries. But in some cases these living wage laws have also applied to companies which have no government contracts. Typically, this occurred in union-friendly, liberal cities such as San Francisco, Berkeley, and Washington D.C.
Business owners hate these laws because they see the government telling them what to do. Executives in the Los Angeles claim that many hotel workers already make the living wage between salaries and tips.
In addition, business is concerned that this kind of legislation may apply to other services such as restaurants and other stores.
The impact of these living wages penetrates other salaries. So it’s not just the people at the very bottom that benefit. Business is concerned that other employees who now make $10 dollars an hour will also ask for raises.
Of course, raising wages increases the cost of doing business and corporations are concerned that in the long run, money will be lost to other cities which do not have living wages.
The other reason why business oppose living wage laws is that they are typically pushed by unions and are perceived as victories for organized labor.
Yet, these laws are necessary because the cost of living in many American cities is so high that without a living wage, it’s impossible to make ends meet, particularly when you consider that the minimum wage hovers around $6 dollars an hour.
It’s particularly difficult when many low wage jobs don’t even include health benefits. Union officials claims that as many as 60% of hotel workers make less than $10 an hour.
The city council vote was a victory for hotel workers but to some extent also for the unions which have been trying to organize workers. In the case of hotel workers near the Los Angeles Airport, unions have been trying to organize workers but so far have had limited success.
The passage of the living wage law may help them. In fact, unions have some close allies in the Los Angeles City Council. Two of them were arrested along with several hundred other demonstrators when they participated in a civil disobedience demonstration which aimed to highlight the plight of hotel workers.
Hotels affected may not be taking the city council action standing down. There is some talk about collecting signatures and putting the matter in the hands of voters. If enough signatures are collected, the ordinance would not take effect until after the result of the election.
The midterm election which gave Democrats majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate is another indication that workers will receive some help from legislators.
One of the items in the Democratic agenda is raising the federal minimum wage which is currently $5.15 an hour, a figure which is lower than that of many European countries. In addition, someone making the minimum wage in the U.S. does not typically receive health benefits, which is not the case in Europe.
The ordinance passed by the Los Angeles City Council is a positive step since it means people may have a chance at more reasonable life, a living wage. It also means that raise people might get will be spent, generating more economic activity which will in turn benefit business, the same business which always opposes raises for its workers.
Domenico Maceri, PhD, UC Santa Barbara, teaches foreign languages at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, CA. He is the author of a book on Pirandello, one on Spanish grammar, and another on Italian grammar. He has also published a number of articles in newspapers and magazines around the world, some of which have won awards from the National Association of Hispanic Publications.
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