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On Tuesday, Long Beach residents will cast their votes on a range of issues, including a living wage for hotel workers to a schedule change for municipal elections. Measures N and O could change the Long Beach economy and raise voter turnout for election of city officials.
Measure N would require hotels in Long Beach with more than 100 rooms to pay a “living wage” of at least $13 per hour to all employees, five dollars more per hour than the state minimum wage of 8. It would also require that all full time employees get health benefit packages and five paid days off per year.
One worker, who attended a rally for measure N at Refiner’s Fellowship of the United Church of Christ on memorial day, still made less than 10 dollars an hour after having been working for one of the hotels in question for over ten years, and receiving raises all along.
The measure would not go into effect if those hotels affected decided to enter into collective bargaining with their employees. The Press Telegram has called the measure, “another effort by an outside group to unionize Long Beach employees.”
The group the newspaper refers to is Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), who has already succeeded in raising wages for another group of hotel workers in Los Angeles, with its campaign the Los Angeles Living Wage Ordinance, which went into effect in this past July.
Living wages have been a concern of Long Beach organizers for as long as four years now, according to Gary Hytrek, Cal State Long Beach Sociology professor and a member of the Coalition for Good Jobs and a Healthy Community (CGJHC).
“The idea that this is some ‘outside group’ trying to force the hand of Long Beach workers is just red herring,” Hytrek said. “we’re talking about raising the standard of living for these people, a standard that has remained virtually unchanged over the last 25 years.”
Historically, the city has not been able to create jobs in Long Beach that bring people out of poverty and Measure N is one step to making that happen, according to Hyrtek.
Not all the people in the community agree, however.
For instance, the CEO of the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce Randy Gordon, and several business owners have said that the measure is unreasonable, and would actually hurt the tourism industry. The Downtown Long Beach Association have also urged voters to vote ‘no’ on, claiming that if the measure passes room rates at those hotels could rise as much as 20 percent, having a detrimental effect on Long Beach’s hospitality industry, as well as all Long Beach businesses.
Josh Kamensky, spokesperson for yes on N said that that ’20 percent increase’ is, just a scare tactic, like referring to organizers as outsiders. “This is a Long Beach movement, and that 20 percent number is just something a hotel manager was quoted on being used to scare people,” Kamensky said.
An Independent consulting firm has actually looked at the Long Beach tourism industry and estimated that room rates are going to rise as mush as 25 percent over the next 5 years due to the success of the hospitality business in Southern California.
“The tourism industry here came through the recession fabulously,” Kamensky said. “Now it’s time for them to pay their workers more.”
Currently, 40 percent of hotel workers at those hotels still rely on public assistance. The wage increase would allow an average employee at one of those hotels to support a family of four at poverty level,as well as guarantee them a two percent pay increase annually.
The CGJHC claim the measure would also funnel an additional $7 million back into the local economy since working class people spend money closer to home.
Bishop Bonnie Radden of the Refiner’s Fire Fellowship of the United Church of Christ hosted an event at her parish for Labor Day of this year, to raise awareness of the struggle of the hotel workers. [pullquote]“If the people that were against this measure talked to the workers the way we’ve done, they would agree that this measure isn’t about dollars,” Radden said. “It’s about sense.”[/pullquote]
Last week the campaign for measure N produced a letter of support signed by two thirds of Long Beach city council, but in the end it will be the decision of residents whether or not the living wage ordinance will pass.
Measure ‘O’ would move municipal election day, to the coincide with state and general elections in 2014.
This would mean quite simply that Long Beach residents would vote for all of their politicians the same day at the city, state, and federal level. Proponents believe that having all elections on the same day would make residents feel more inclined to participate in municipal elections.
Opposition to O is based on costs that would arise for institutions like the school district who would still need to hold a separate election for district officials independent of the main election day.
You can use the ‘Find your polling place‘ tool offered by the city of Long Beach website to find where you can make your voice count for next Tuesday’s California primary 2012.