Each year, millions of tourists come to Los Angeles, attracted by our beautiful weather, sandy beaches, Hollywood celebrities, and more. LA is the nation’s second most popular tourist destination, putting our city’s hospitality industry at the heart of our local economy. With 42 million visitors last year and a healthy 77% occupancy rate—well above the national average—LA’s hotel industry is booming, annually generating $18 billion in revenue.
But where is all this money going? A recent economic study finds that 40% of LA’s hotel workers live in poverty, making hotels the city’s largest low-wage job provider. Even though they work for one of the city’s biggest employers, most hotel workers struggle to get by—often forced to work two jobs and rely on public assistance just to make ends meet. By any measure, a huge and highly profitable industry is failing to live up to its potential as a positive local economic driver, instead keeping many thousands of Angelenos living below the poverty line.
Luckily, a local non-profit—Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy—is looking to do something about it. LAANE has been at the forefront of the living wage movement here in Los Angeles for the last 20 years, beginning with a citywide ordinance for city contracts in 1997 and a living wage for workers at the hotels around LAX in 2007—just to name a few of the efforts it has spearheaded.
Joining with a number of other progressive organizations, small businesses, and many community stakeholders, LAANE is working on taking these victories a step further through a project they call Raise LA. In the works for the past several years, this campaign is working to raise the minimum wage at LA’s larger hotels—ones with over 125 rooms—to $15.37/hour. If passed, this will be the highest minimum wage in the country and would benefit nearly 15,000 hotel workers locally.
Wage increase proponents argue that a raise of this kind would not only improve the lives of working people and their families, it would also help regenerate our local economies. The idea is simple: higher wages give workers greater purchasing power, money that is then reinvested into local businesses. Call it trickle-up economics.
The ordinance is winding its way through Los Angeles City Council, with a vote before a key committee expected this fall. Councilmembers Mike Bonin, Nury Martinez, Curren D. Price, Tom LaBonge, and Paul Koretz have already publicly endorsed the campaign—five votes on a 15-member body.
But why is Hollywood—a regional mecca of tourism and hotel development—missing in action on this key question? And where does Hollywood’s representative, Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, stand?
Hollywood has at least five new hotels planned for development, further demonstrating the market’s strength and making the Hollywood community a key battleground for getting this ordinance passed. If the jobs created by these new hotels are good paying ones, they will contribute to a better quality of life, not just for hotel workers and their families, but for all Angelenos.
Considered a labor-friendly progressive on some issues, O’Farrell could improve the lives of working families, bringing money back into our local businesses and uplifting our community as a whole. He just needs to join his fellow councilmembers in support of Raise LA.