By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
“I would hope they would support it,” Larmore said. “The living-wage part is consistent with things they have written, and the concepts were theirs.”
Advocates of the business-backed measure cleverly try to dismiss opponents as misguided. “They’re jumping up and down in L.A. County saying it’s great, and they’re jumping up and down here saying it won’t cover anyone,” said San Francisco consultant Mark Mosher, who was hired by the hotel and restaurant owners after he helped raise $1.4 million for Mayor Willie Brown’s re-election.
Sponsors of the county’s living-wage law are troubled by the way Santa Monica businesses are citing the county law as a reason to oppose the more generous, worker-backed rules. “It’s one thing to oppose something honestly, and it’s another to take something someone believes in and has dedicated their life to and co-opt it,” said Madeline Janis Aparicio, who heads the Los Angeles Living Wage Coalition. “I’m outraged by that.”
Longtime living-wage proponents say the proposed ballot initiative fails to cover the low-wage workers in the city’s hotels and restaurants targeted by SMART’s proposal. By not covering businesses that lease from the city, the measure spares the Pacific Shore Hotel near the beach, several restaurants on the pier, and Pacific Park, the pier’s fun zone.
“This is a sham living-wage ordinance put forward by the big hotels and anti–living wage lobbyists to exempt themselves and to cover as few workers as possible,” said Stephanie Monroe, a leader of SMART. “The scope of this sham living-wage ordinance is so narrow, the holes so gaping and the exemptions so numerous, we’re not sure it would cover one red-blooded worker.” Monroe said the Jonathan Club dismissed 30 workers because they backed the living-wage rule; a club spokesman denied this, saying it was a “strictly business” decision and that their work would be contracted out.
This week, the City Council asked its staff to “analyze the potential effects of the proposed so-called ‘living wage initiative,’ including the breadth or narrowness of the proposed initiative’s application to workers, including what type of workers may or may not be covered.” Staff also are expected to study “how the proposed initiative might legally affect actions the present City Council may take regarding a living-wage ordinance.”
Mosher — who helped modify a San Francisco living-wage proposal — predicts that staff will find that the initiative covers parking attendants and contracted employees at Santa Monica Airport and in parks across the city. “There are many contracts let that are outside the zone,” Mosher said.
Business owners targeted by the proposed ordinance have long contended that SMART is trying to get the council to do what the local Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees union has failed to achieve by organizing workers. They also charge that they have been left out of the city process, which they say has been tainted by bias. For evidence, they point to professor Robert Pollin, an advocate of the living wage hired by the council in January to study the issue for the city.
The New England professor can’t be objective, critics charged before the 6-1 vote to hire the economist from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. After all, they protested, it was Pollin who penned the definitive book on the benefits of the living wage. And it was Pollin who, out of more than 50 experts, submitted the only bid for the job. His team of researchers is conducting a four-month study for $50,000.
“The [City] Council has put a lot of trust in myself and our team of researchers,” Pollin told a crowd of more than 100 during his first public appearance last month. “I’m on the record that I’m very supportive of the goals of raising living standards. The city of Santa Monica also said they are supportive of the goals of the living-wage movement.
“Moving from general principle to specific policy is the trick,” Pollin said. “There are pitfalls. The people you are trying to help could actually turn out worse off. We want to make sure we don’t hurt the people we want to help.”
The study, expected to be completed by June 26, has not been an easy one to conduct. Hotels and restaurants were key among the businesses targeted by the proposal. The study has to grapple with myriad questions seldom, if ever, raised by the living-wage ordinances approved by other municipalities: How will the law’s fallout affect businesses not covered by the proposal? Should the law cover part-time workers? How do you calculate earnings in the restaurants and hotels, where workers often earn much of their money in tips?
These were among the questions asked by skeptical business owners, who said the proposed law would drive them out of business or deter them from opening their doors in Santa Monica.
“Eighty percent of our staff are minimum-wage, tipped employees,” said Tony Palermo, one of the owners of Teasers restaurant on the Third Street Promenade. “They’ll get a 100 percent raise. My payroll will double. How can we logically stay in business?” As with most of the questions and observations, Pollin listened and replied, “The answer is, ‘I don’t know.’ The points you are raising are exactly the points we need to study.”
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