Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Grass-Roots Surge to Boost Minimum Pay Reaches L.A. ; the City Council Is Set to Vote Wednesday on a 'Living Wage' Law That Would Mandate $10.64 an Hour at Airport Hotels

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Grass-Roots Surge to Boost Minimum Pay Reaches L.A. ; the City Council Is Set to Vote Wednesday on a 'Living Wage' Law That Would Mandate $10.64 an Hour at Airport Hotels

Article excerpt

Hotel worker Ana Mendez says her years of marching in the streets for the cause of living wages are about to pay off.

After five years as a banquet server at the Hilton hotel near Los Angeles International Airport - and watching the lion's share of her tips siphoned off by management - she is poised to make more money, along with thousands of other workers.

In a move that labor experts say is likely to harbinger a trend in other large cities, the Los Angeles City Council is expected to approve Wednesday a "living wage" ordinance for workers at hotels within city limits. The measure, which is backed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, would make L.A. the largest city to extend the concept to companies that don't have contracts, leases, or other direct financial ties with city hall.

Local businesses plan to challenge the ordinance in court, arguing that its unfair to target some industries and not others. For now, the political momentum lies with the legislation's backers.

"This is not the first use of this idea, but because of the sheer magnitude of those affected, it shows how the living-wage movement is going to evolve in a more focused way as the country moves down this road," says Liana Fox, economic analyst at the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank in Washington, D.C.

Living wages represent a twist on the current debate over the minimum wage. The newly elected congressional Democratic leadership is pushing to raise the current federal minimum wage of $5.15 an hour. A total of 28 states have already enacted or approved measures to do so. But living wage ordinances typically involve higher pay that, theoretically, would lift workers out of poverty.

Nationally, more than 140 localities have enacted such laws. Most of them forbid government officials from signing contracts with companies that pay less than the established minimum. The idea: Keep cities from promoting poverty-level wages.

"More and more Americans are seeing the consolidations of giant business and the incredible CEO compensations and don't see it trickling down to ordinary families and this is a response to that," says Vivian Rothstein, deputy director of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, which has organized several protests and rallies here in recent months. …

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