living wage organizing
colist-admin at comm-org.utoledo.edu
colist-admin at comm-org.utoledo.edu
Thu May 11 22:48:35 CDT 2000
[ed: the following is reprinted with permission of the authors.]
From: dreier at oxy.edu
Los Angeles Times
May 10, 2000
Wolf in Sheep's Clothing in Santa Monica Living wage: Don't let Big Money's
proposal undermine a more inclusive plan to raise the pay of low-wage workers.
By KELLY CANDAELE AND PETER DREIER
When the tobacco industry pushes for an "anti-smoking law,"
voters are wise to retain a healthy skepticism. When the health
insurance industry leads the charge on "health care reform," it pays
to read the fine print. And when major business interests craft a
policy designed to secure a "living wage" for working men and
women, you can be sure that no startling act of economic altruism
The Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce and other business
interests are bankrolling a "living wage" initiative in a blatant attempt
to undermine a more far-reaching approach making its way through
the Santa Monica City Council. With a sizable war chest, the
business-sponsored organization, Santa Monicans for a Living
Wage, has hired an experienced political consultant and a politically
connected downtown L.A. law firm to carry out its plan.
The group has sent expensive direct-mail pieces to voters. One
of these fliers claims that the proposal would pay Santa Monica
workers a wage high enough to make them "self sufficient." It also
hired people to gather signatures to get its initiative on the local
ballot in November.
More than 40 local living-wage laws have been enacted across
the country, and another 80 have been proposed. Business leaders
across the country see the battle in Santa Monica as a brush fire in a
larger war against local measures that require employers to improve
wages and benefits for the working poor. Business groups are using
Santa Monica as an experiment to see if strong living-wage laws
can be stopped with an expensive public relations and political
Here's the catch: The business proposal is expected to cover
only about 200 city employees. It would exempt large employers
that lease land from the city, like companies that operate at the
Santa Monica Pier and the Santa Monica Airport. Most critically,
the initiative would preclude the elected City Council from ever
directly enacting its own living-wage policy.
The business-sponsored initiative is a response to a proposal
advocated by Santa Monicans Allied for Responsible Tourism, or
SMART, a coalition of community, religious and labor groups.
SMART's plan, which is now being studied by the City Council,
would require businesses with 50 or more employees within the
"coastal zone"--the city's hotel, restaurant and shopping district--to
pay their workers a minimum of $10.69 an hour. This amounts to a
yearly income of about $22,000 for a full-time worker with a family
of four, slightly over the poverty line. The proposal would cover an
estimated 3,000 employees, most of them low-wage service
workers in luxury hotels, large restaurants and retail outlets.
This proposal, even if modified by the City Council, would
change the discussion about what constitutes a living wage and who
should pay it. It is a departure from other ordinances across the
country that generally only cover businesses that have contracts or
subsidies with city or county governments.
SMART's logic for including private-sector businesses with at
least 50 employees is compelling. Owners of large and small
companies often argue that they are independent operators whose
success depends on their talent and ingenuity. In reality, Santa
Monica's private tourism industry is heavily subsidized by local,
state and even federal funding. Over the years, government has
invested large amounts of public dollars on infrastructure and
general improvements in the coastal zone.
These investments have turned Santa Monica into a major resort
destination, attracting millions of tourists and travelers. Tens of
millions of dollars have been spent to renovate the publicly owned
Santa Monica Pier and popular beachfront park. Another $3.5
million in city funds were used to renovate the Third Street
Promenade. Increased police presence on the pier and at the
Promenade and the development of tourist transit facilities have cost
Government has played a critical role in improving the Santa
Monica business climate that makes local firms so profitable. Santa
Monica's booming economy has generated thousands of low-wage
jobs. Yet while businesses thrive, full-time workers remain
dependent on public services such as food stamps, housing
assistance and public health care.
Santa Monicans have a chance to show that they can see
through the business community's lavishly financed smoke screen.
Like L.A.'s janitors, Santa Monica's low-wage workers--and their
allies among religious and community groups--hope that grass-roots
democracy will prevail over Big Money.
- - -
Kelly Candaele Is a Writer and Is President of the Los Angeles
Community College Board of Trustees. Peter Dreier Is a Professor
of Politics and Public Policy at Occidental College
Dr. E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics
Director, Urban & Environmental Policy Program
Urban & Environmental Policy Institute
1600 Campus Road
Los Angeles, CA 90041
Phone: (323) 259-2913
FAX: (323) 259-2734
More information about the Colist