By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
”Ted“ explains the deal: $2.50 per signature on the wage petition, $2 for new Republican registrations, etc. For starters, I’ll watch him in action, and he‘ll also share some trade secrets.
First tip: Don’t begin by asking voters to sign the living-wage petition. Lead instead with the less controversial petition, which asks people to support having a mayor elected by voters rather than by council members. Then, segue into the living wage.
I have stepped feet first into Santa Monica‘s protracted civic debate over the living wage -- specifically, over whether some 2,000 workers in beachside hotels and upscale eateries should be guaranteed wages that would allow them to survive on one full-time job rather than two. In my work for the Weekly, I often view things from the perspective of the working poor. Today, I’ve come to see how it looks from the other side of the political spectrum. I might even make a few bucks too -- as a signature-gatherer for merchants hoping to overturn the living wage by getting a voter referendum on the ballot. Beachside hotels and the local chamber of commerce mounted this campaign after the City Council voted 5-2 last month to make large employers in the city‘s ultraprofitable tourist zone pay at least $10.50 an hour with benefits or $12.25 without.
There is no need to mislead, advises Ted, my mentor. Just emphasize that the city’s living wage discriminates (against a those outside the beach zone) and would cost the city big time to defend in court.
Ted knows all the tricks, like making the cause a personal appeal for aid: ”Can you just help us get this on the ballot?“ Or if the voter has doubts, stress democracy: ”Let the people decide.“ Also, make your first contact as people enter the store. They‘re more likely to stop when coming out, but now you can greet them like friends. And even if they don’t stop, call out, ”God bless you.“ Ted picked that up in a pro-life petition campaign, ”Not that I‘m so anti-abortion,“ he explains.
After two hours, my tutelage is complete and I load up with voter-registration forms, petitions, clipboards, info sheets and backup rubber bands.
I have my lines down, but no sooner do I unfold my card table in front of a Wilshire Boulevard drugstore than the manager advises me I’m on private property. I retreat 50 feet into the parking lot -- and suffer a 75 percent drop in traffic from passersby. But a clerk on a smoke break signs on, once I explain that the wage hike wouldn‘t put anything in his pocket. After a slow 40 minutes (tourists, non-citizens, moms with no free hands), I move on.
Eureka! A busy Vons with only one entrance and ample space for my table. I’m soon joined by fellow traveler ”Nora.“ Business is brisk enough for us both, until the dreaded ”blockers“ appear, a teenage Latina and an older, sweatsuit-clad blond from the pro-living-wage forces. The blond has apparently taken a few pointers from the Raiders and thrusts herself between the petitioners and their human targets; suddenly grass-roots democracy is very nearly a contact sport. The shoppers are plainly rattled by the crosstalk and rising voices. Time to retreat.
After a second day on the streets, I take stock. For some prospects, no encouragement is needed. Middle-age Norman, in a paint-splattered shirt, could hardly be held back: ”Next thing is to get rid of all the radicals on City Council.“ Norman, no surprise, runs an apartment building. Then there was the woman with a fanny pack, who snapped, ”I haven‘t had a raise in over two years.“
But living-wage detractors aren’t all propertied. A grocery bag-boy explains ominously to a younger colleague that ”Everything will get more expensive: gas, food, rent. You know how it is -- things at this Ralphs cost more than at Ralphs on Crenshaw.“ Unfortunately, this freelance economist lives outside high-cost Santa Monica, so he couldn‘t sign the petition. And ”Larry,“ snaggle-toothed and sunburned, lists his address as a service center for the homeless. How did he feel about a living wage? ”I couldn’t support that -- my mom would kill me. She owns a hotel.“ Okay, heredity one, social justice zero. ”Larry“ also registered as a Republican (because Bush backs the death penalty), which means a bonus $2 for me.
Most bustle by with a mumbled ”no time“ or ”not today,“ or just a baleful glance. Half of the remainder are nonvoters; about a quarter volunteer that hotel workers deserve more. On that enlightened group it‘s silly to waste a sales pitch.
From my street corner, things don’t look so good for the hard-pressed hotels. The next day, a fellow petitioner laments: ”Some people were kind of hostile. I‘ve been doing this stuff eight years, and this is the hardest. You know of any other jobs?“
I could offer only the number of a telemarketer.
Next afternoon, I canvass adjacent blocks. Lots of ineligibles: house sitters, maids, nannies. I do some math: $7 for me in an hour and a half. I’m sure not making any living wage.