This week, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa approved a new city law  requiring hotels near the LAX airport to pay the same living wage as those companies receiving government contracts: $9.39 an hour if the hotels provide health insurance or $10.64 an hour without benefits.
Minimum wage laws were raised across the country this last year, but the reality remains that the minimum wage is just that-- a minimum. There's no reason many industries cannot afford to pay a living wage higher than that minimum -- and Los Angeles city council members pointed out that hotels benefiting from being near a public airport should share those benefits with the workers who clean their rooms and cook their guests' meals.
The Los Angeles hotel measure extending the city living wage law to selected private sector industries is part of a growing trend we've highlighted :
- Berkeley now requires companies in its Marina tourist zone to pay $9.75 per hour plus benefits.
- Santa Fe requires all businesses of twenty-five or more employees  to pay $10.50 per hour by 2008.
- Emeryville, CA earlier approved a ballot measure  similar to LA's requiring large hotels to pay $9 per hour plus benefits.
Most prominently, the Chicago City Council approved a measure requiring large retailers like Wal-Mart  to pay $10 per hour plus $3 per hour in benefits. While that measure was vetoed by the City's mayor, it called national attention to the emerging strategy of setting industry-specific wage standards higher than the minimum wage.
Los Angeles' law comes in the wake of years of organizing by LAX hotel workers  demanding a union and better work conditions. The law gives any hotel the option to negotiate alternative wage standards to the city rules if they recognize a union and sign a collective bargaining agreement with their workers.
The LA business community has tried to make the argument that it is illegal to set higher wages for a particular industry sector, but a recent court ruling  refusing an injunction against the Emeryville hotel wage law and an early court ruling  upholding the Berkeley Marina wage ordinance emphasize that governments are free to set higher wage rates for selected industries as public policy deems reasonable.
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