Raising the Minimum Wage for Working Men and Women in California and the Rest of America

For Workers on Bottom Rung, Wage Hike Could Make Big Difference

An L.A. proposal would nearly double the minimum wage paid to workers at large hotels, but owners and managers say it could lead to job cuts.

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On the road to Los Angeles International Airport in the pre-dawn dark, Inez Luna’s eyes appear nearly swollen shut with exhaustion.

He got only four hours of sleep, as usual, but he can’t slow down or he’ll be late for his 3:30 a.m. clock-in. For seven hours or more, he’ll load baggage and cargo onto jets at the airport, where his co-workers Anglicized “Luna” to create his nickname, “Mr. Moon.”

Then he crawls back into his Toyota Corolla for a quick midday nap before reporting to job No. 2, washing dishes and busing tables at the Hilton Los Angeles Airport hotel. Off at 10 p.m. and home to South Los Angeles half an hour later, Luna sometimes does not have the energy to pull off his shoes. He simply collapses atop his bed.

A doctor told him he needs more sleep to bring down his blood pressure. A friend warned him: “You are driving 60 miles an hour toward your grave.”

To move Luna and thousands of other Los Angeles hotel workers out of the economic margins, labor activists and their City Hall allies are preparing one of the nation’s boldest programs to attack growing income disparities and lift the take-home pay of low-wage earners. An ordinance soon to be introduced in the City Council is expected to require 87 large hotels to pay a $15.37-an-hour “living wage,” nearly double California’s current $8-an-hour minimum.

Proponents argue that the pay boost will provide a more humane standard of living for roughly 10,000 workers and bolster the local economy by unleashing $71 million in additional consumer spending.

The idea of using higher pay to stimulate economic activity is not limited to liberals. Ron Unz, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and some-time libertarian political candidate, is gathering signatures to put a minimum-wage measure on the November state ballot. It would push pay to at least $10 an hour in 2015 and $12 an hour a year later.

• Category: California, Campaign • Tags: James Rainey