Dozens of labor activists pushing for the Long Beach City Council to put an initiative on the 2024 ballot that would allow voters to raise the minimum wage for hotel workers in the city to $25 per hour filled a committee hearing Tuesday calling for its members to move the issue forward.
Unite Here Local 11 and its members are pushing for a $25 minimum wage next year with an escalator to $30 by the 2028 Olympics, mirroring other efforts across other cities in the region. The union represents over 32,000 hotel, restaurant, airport, convention center and sports arena employees in Southern California and Arizona.
The changes would apply to hotels in the city with over 100 rooms. It’s unclear how it will affect Long Beach if voters adopt the wage increase.
The council requested a market study in July to analyze how a pay increase for the city’s hotel workers might affect the industry, but some council members indicated that they were ready to place the issue on the ballot before authorizing the study.
However, Johnny Vallejo, the city’s deputy director of Economic Development, said the city was unable to find a firm that could perform an analysis in the short amount of time provided by the city. The City Council has to vote by Oct. 24 to place the issue on the March ballot, something it pledged to do in July.
Vallejo said several firms “politely declined” to conduct the study, citing the limited timeframe. Long Beach ran into a similar issue when it sought insight as to what would happen if the council approved a similar wage increase for employees of private health care facilities.
It eventually got a condensed report, with the authors admitting that they were unable to account for long-term effects to health care access or if it would create a spillover effect for other industries that might also be forced to raise wages.
Vallejo said there could be short-term benefits for both the city and hospitality workers, like increased hotel tax revenue collected by the city and increased wages, but long-term effects could include job losses, businesses exiting the city and eventually a decrease in hotel taxes seen by the city.
Long Beach already has a hotel minimum wage ordinance that was adopted in 2012 that provides annual increases based on the consumer price index. As of July, the minimum wage in the city was $17.55 per hour.
“I don’t believe the adjustments reflect the current cost of living,” said Councilmember Cindy Allen, who chairs the Economic Development and Opportunity Committee.
Labor representatives said Tuesday that the increase was justified given the profits being seen by some hotels and the need to provide a living wage to the employees who work at the hotels.
“Those profits are coming off the backs of hard-working Long Beach residents,” said Devin Ablard, an organizer with the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, which includes Unite Here. “Those profits are the stolen wages of hard-working Long Beach residents or people who have been priced out.”
Hoteliers called for a phased-in approach to any kind of wage increase, saying that it would allow them to adapt to the increased costs.
“We need to look at transitioning to that point, rather than shocking the system and potentially creating a bigger economic issue for the city,” said Imran Ahmed, general manager for the Long Beach Marriott.
While strikes have been more visible in cities like Los Angeles, some of Unite Here’s members joined the “Hot Labor Summer” in Los Angeles by picketing outside of Hotel Maya. Within the first week, the demonstrations turned violent after a hotel guest punched a protestor before a wedding ceremony at the hotel.
The union is behind several efforts across the region to raise the minimum wage for its members. In Los Angeles, some council members have proposed skipping a $25 per hour wage in favor of a $30 minimum wage.
Meanwhile, in Anaheim, that council has voted to oppose a ballot measure that would increase workers’ wages to $25 per hour. Unite Here qualified a measure for Anaheim’s ballot that would raise wages for not only hotel workers, but also those at the convention center, Angel Stadium and other entertainment spaces.
An analysis done for Anaheim found that in the short term, increased wages would likely lead to more transient occupancy tax for the city, which is the amount charged on top of daily room rates. The report suggested that hotels would raise prices and that would lead to between a 0.5% and 2.5% increase to the city’s TOT revenue, or as much as $5.9 million.
However, those gains could be short-lived, the report said. It projected that by 2028, the amount the city would see in TOT would actually be less with the wage increases than without, stating that visitors might choose to stay elsewhere because of the higher nightly charges and some hotels could go out of business.
The report noted that at least one hotel project has been cancelled because of the pending ballot measure.
“The social goals of the bill are laudable,” the report said. “However, policymakers should be very careful about balancing these trade-offs with nurturing the overall tourism market, and they should be cautious about long-term unintended consequences.”
The hotel tax accounts for over 40% the city’s overall revenue, a much larger amount than Long Beach, which projected just $23.1 million of its $676 million general fund would come from TOT.
Anaheim’s council voted to oppose the measure, citing negative effects for its city-owned convention center and the tourism economy as a whole.
The issue will now move forward to the full City Council, which will be updated at its Sept. 19 meeting about potential options for the ballot measure.
If it eventually approves putting the hotel worker wage increase on the March ballot, it would join another wage increase for health care employees in the city, who are also seeking a $25 minimum wage.