living wage organizing

colist-admin at colist-admin at
Thu May 11 22:48:35 CDT 2000

[ed:  the following is reprinted with permission of the authors.]

From: dreier at

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.


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

has occurred.

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

millions more.

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





Peter Dreier

Dr. E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics

Director, Urban & Environmental Policy Program

Urban & Environmental Policy Institute

Occidental College

1600 Campus Road

Los Angeles, CA 90041

Phone: (323) 259-2913

FAX: (323) 259-2734

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