New food-concession businesses at the Long Beach Airport and the Long Beach Convention Center may soon be required to pay a higher starting wage. The Long Beach City Council voted in favor of asking the city attorney to draft an ordinance that would require future food-concession businesses at the airport and convention center to pay their workers a higher minimum wage consistent with Measure N, a law passed last year by Long Beach voters. At the time it had taken effect last year, Measure N was originally intended to apply only to the hotel industry, but with nearly the full support of the Council, food-concession workers at the airport and convention center may soon join the hotel workers in that ability to earn that bigger paycheck.
Praised by some community advocates and councilmembers Tuesday night, Measure N guaranteed what has been dubbed a “living wage” to hotel workers in the city. At the time it was passed in 2012, this initiative ordinance required hotels with 100 rooms or more to offer employees $13 per hour in addition to paid sick leave. Measure N’s language also allowed for regular increases. As of July 1, hotel workers are now entitled to a minimum wage of $13.26, according to the city clerk website. As previously reported, the measure, supported by a hotel-worker union, stipulated that hotels that unionize would be exempt from the provisions.
Fourth District Councilmember Patrick O’Donnell co-sponsored the agenda item with Vice Mayor Robert Garcia and 7th District Councilmember James Johnson, calling for the recommendation to draft the ordinance. O’Donnell said that when a worker is paid a living wage, he or she would not need to rely on the government to provide basic necessities such as housing, healthcare, transportation and food.
“So,” he concluded, “in essence, such a policy is fiscally prudent and morally correct.”
The Council voted unanimously (8-0) for the city attorney to draft the ordinance. Third District Councilmember Gary DeLong was absent for the vote. A few councilmembers emphasized the advantages of offering better pay to employees in this segment of Long Beach’s tourism industry, particularly since the airport and convention center are highly visible.
“I think… we are having positive conversations and thoughtful dialogue about what a living wage really does for workers and what a living wage really does for the overall health and economic health of the city,” Garcia said.
An ordinance would apply toward new contracts with current food-concession businesses at the airport and convention center if the contracts were renegotiated or amended in the future, a spokesperson for O’Donnell’s office confirmed Thursday.
Fifth District Councilmember Gerrie Schipske also favored a hike in salary for airport and convention center concession workers. She said about 23 percent of the Long Beach population lives at or below the poverty line.
“When people have to struggle and work two or three jobs just simply, simply to survive,” Schipske said, “that’s wrong. And in a city this size, I think…we are sending a very strong message.”
There were a number of people who seemed to agree with the councilmembers during the comment period, however out of the handful of speakers on Tuesday, only one individual was directly affected by the Council action.
Speaking through a Filipino-language translator, one man, who said he works for both the Hyatt Hotel and the Long Beach Convention Center, spoke of the disparity in the wages between his two jobs. At the hotel, he said he is paid $14 per hour, and at the convention center, he only earns $8.60 per hour. He added that, at the convention center, he doesn’t get vacation pay and doesn’t have medical benefits.
Even though they weren’t directly affected by the proposed wage increase, a number of people in the Council Chamber who represented community and labor organizations sympathized with workers at the airport and convention center. A few spoke out.
April Sanchez works in customer service in the coffee industry and attends California State University, Long Beach with a double major in sociology and communications studies. She says she used to live in Long Beach until she had an economic hardship. Currently residing in San Pedro, the 28-year-old said in an interview Tuesday night that she wants to return to Long Beach.
Sanchez is a part of the Long Beach Coalition for Good Jobs and a Healthy Community, an organization which has supported the wage hikes for the airport and convention workers and campaigned for Measure N in 2012.
“Working [in] customer service, I can identify with the hardships of other low-wage workers,” Sanchez told the Council, “because I know firsthand how difficult it can be to put on a happy face and provide that outstanding customer service when I’m worried I won’t be able to make my rent for the month or even if I’ll be able to buy Christmas presents for my family.”
Sanchez said she has been working at her job for three years, and even with annual raises and an anticipated promotion, she still earns “poverty-level wages.”
Eric Tandoc is a member of the steering committee for the same coalition and also represents the Filipino Migrant Center in Long Beach. A 7th-district resident, Tandoc told the Council that he favored a wage increase for workers. He remembered how he and other volunteers campaigned throughout the city in support of Measure N.
“The reason people support a living wage,” Tandoc said Tuesday, “is because they know that the alternative to a living wage is a poverty wage.”
Only one individual at the Council meeting spoke out against Measure N. He said that while some individuals may be doing better after measure was passed, the initiative ordinance has decreased the number of jobs for hotel workers.
“You know, considering that California is the worst business climate in all 50 states for three, four years running under the helm of Democrats,” he concluded, “I don’t think that we should be embracing a Democrat economic policy, which is all this is.”
A draft of the ordinance may be brought before the City Council by January or February, City Attorney Charles Parkin confirmed Thursday in a telephone interview.
In a second-reading vote, the Council also passed later that night two other ordinances relating to the airport and convention-center workers. One ordinance required food-service-concession businesses to sign labor-peace agreements with employee organizations. Another ordinance established worker-retention requirements, stating that it aimed to reduce employee turnover and workplace instability. ß