Want a Living Wage? Start Local.
Matthew McDermott November 6, 2012 10:25 am
By: Matthew McDermott
The fight for a reasonable minimum wage requires engaging with formidable enemies — chief among them multinational corporations with a vested interest in keeping labor costs low and with the money to hire expensive lobbyists. The national minimum wage rests at just $7.25; the minimum wage in California stands at a slightly more reasonable $8.00. The federal minimum wage for tipped workers is a stunningly low $2.83.
As local living wage measures make it to ballots (and pass), local Chambers of Commerce and other pro-business groups are trotting out the same tired arguments: a higher wage will be bad for business, resulting in job loss and higher costs for the consumer. But a strong body of research and observation of living wage job markets speaks to the contrary, and several communities have now rallied to lift workers out of poverty.
Today the lives of hotel workers in Long Beach, CA could change with the passage of Measure N. Since the 1980s, Long Beach has pumped money into the hospitality industry as the city’s traditionally strong aerospace industry weathered cutbacks in defense spending. Since then, $750 million in public money has driven the hospitality industry, with $114 million directly subsidizing hotels.
This money opened the floodgates to a healthy tourism industry in Long Beach. Rates for hotel rooms are expected to rise by 25 percent in the next four years due to demand, yet the city can still undercut close competitors in Beverly Hills, Anaheim and Los Angeles. Though 10.1 percent of Long Beach’s workers are employed in the booming hospitality industry, these workers have not experienced the stability and growth enjoyed by their employers, and stagnant wages (an average of $10 an hour) cause hardship and drive many hotel workers to take other jobs or resort to public assistance.
Ms. Cababa talked about the true beneficiaries of the measure — the hotel workers who walk the routes with volunteers and organizers:
“I think from the hotel workers perspective it’s been really inspiring.. I’ve had the chance to walk with hotel workers.. I’ve met workers like Romeo Trinidad – he’s worked at the Hilton Long Beach for ten years now and he’s still living with his family in a one bedroom apartment.. these past few weeks I’ve seen him talking to his neighbors, talking to his co-workers about why Measure N will make a difference in his life.”