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Hotel Union Submits Ballot Initiative for Country's Highest Minimum Wage

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By Jorge Casuso

July 19, 2023 -- The hotel workers union on Tuesday filed a ballot initiative requiring Santa Monica hotels to pay their workers at least $30 per hour, which would make it the highest minimum wage in the nation.

The initiative sponsored by Unite HERE Local 11 would exempt union hotels by allowing the provisions to be waived in a bona fide collective bargaining agreement, according to a copy of the initiative.

"Citing the housing crisis, the union is demanding employers pay a living wage so that workers can afford to live near where they work," the union said in a press release issued on Tuesday.

"The proposed law would be the highest minimum wage in the country."

The proposed wage is significantly higher than the City's current minimum wage of $15.96 per hour or the $19.73 minimum wage for hotels and businesses operating on hotel property.

That wage -- which like the citywide wage is adjusted annually for inflation -- matches the City of Los Angeles Citywide Hotel Worker Minimum Wage Rate.

Under the proposed measure, the minimum wage would be increased annually by the percentage increase under the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for the LA area or by 5 percent, whichever is greater, through July 1, 2029, when it would be alligned with the CPI.

The proposed initiative also would ensure "reasonable workloads for hotel room cleaners" and prohibit, with certain exemptions, hotel employers from hiring contract workers to clean rooms.

In addition, it would prohibit "hotels from implementing programs or policies whereby guest rooms are not sanitized and cleaned after each night that they are occupied."

The proposed measure also sets the square-footage a room attendant can clean per day before receiving twice the hourly rate and includes provisions requiring hotels that change ownership to retain workers.

Under the measure, the City would collect economic data, including information on jobs, business license and sales tax and make the data publicly available.

"To monitor and investigate compliance" with the reporting requirements, "every Hotel Employer shall cooperate with City-authorized investigators."

This includes, but is not limited to, "accessing records" and "allowing investigators to interview persons, including Hotel Workers, during normal business hours," according to the text of the proposed measure.

The City can "issue and serve administrative subpeonas as necessary to obtain specific information regarding minimum wage and benefits provided to Hotel Workers."

The measure was submitted to the City Clerk the same day that the union and a bargaining group representing more than 44 hotels in Los Angeles and Orange counties remained deadlocked after meeting for the first time in three weeks.

During the deadlock, hotel union workers have held two waves of strikes affecting a total of 33 hotels ("Hotels, Workers Union Still Deadlocked," July 18, 2023).

The union has 180 days to gather the signatures of 10 percent of Santa Monica registered voters -- who numbered 6,929 in last year's November election -- to place the measure on the ballot.

The City Council can then either adopt the measure or adopt a resolution to place the measure on the ballot.

If the measure is taken to a vote, supporters and opponents will prepare arguments for and against the measure, and the City Attorney will prepare an impartial analysis.

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