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
When you’re staying at the Santa Monica Doubletree Hotel, you just might want to step out of your $189-a-night ocean-view suite now and then. Don‘t worry about the soggy towels on the bathroom floor or the wastebasket holding yesterday’s newspapers. You‘re the guest. Enjoy. Pop in to the 4th Street Grille downstairs, where you can have a plate of prosciutto and melon ($9.95) for openers, followed by, say, the tasty lamb chop au poivre ($21.95). Or just settle into a soft armchair in the hotel’s airy main lobby and take in the eight-story blond-wood atrium and eye-catching art-deco banisters.
Here‘s the best part. When you get back to your room, everything will be spit and polished. Your housekeeper -- the maid or the cleaning lady, for those who aren’t familiar with the prosaic terminology of the hotel industry -- will have vacuumed the carpet, scrubbed the sink and toilet, stretched clean sheets on the bed so tight you can bounce a quarter on it, removed any trace of a fingerprint on the mirrors and done a few dozen other things to make the room as spiffy as the day you got there.
The housekeeper in this instance might be Flora Andrade, 41, a calm, bespectacled woman who, by the end of the day, has the slogging demeanor of a battle-weary infantryman. The Guatemalan-born Andrade, who has worked for the Doubletree for almost seven years, lives in a $400-a-month apartment in South Los Angeles with her three sons and her mother. She and her family have never had the lamb au poivre. In fact, when she gets home at night, Andrade is so tired after cleaning her daily quota of 14 hotel suites that she can barely muster enough energy to rustle up the family‘s usual diet: beans or potatoes with eggs.
It’s Andrade and her fellow service workers in the Santa Monica hotel industry who stand to be the prime beneficiaries should Measure JJ pass on November 5. The so-called living-wage proposition seeks to use the heft of city investments to raise the hourly wage of service workers to between $10.50 and $12.25 an hour, depending on whether health benefits are included. The idea is that large businesses along the coastal commercial corridor of Santa Monica have benefited not only from about $180 million in public-works and redevelopment funds but, in the case of the hotels, from their status as a monopoly. Twelve years ago, Santa Monica voters decided to put a lock on more hotel development in the area. So, say proponents of JJ, let the working poor get some of the largess.
The “sueldo digno,” as Andrade calls the living wage, has been in the Santa Monica hopper for more than four years. Vivian Rothstein, director of Santa Monicans for Responsible Tourism (SMART), which is spearheading the Yes on JJ campaign, says she and others got the idea when they discovered that workers in luxury hotels were lining up at local food banks because they weren‘t making enough to make ends meet.
“When there are two parents working full time and the family is still below the poverty level -- that’s not just,” Rothstein says. “Something‘s wrong.”
Despite Santa Monica’s reputation as the prototype for progressive municipalities everywhere, it‘s not quite on the cutting edge in this case. The living wage has been around in one form or another for eight years, and more than 80 cities or counties, including Los Angeles, already have it. The difference here is that Santa Monica is the first to try to dictate a living wage to employers who aren’t under contract with local government. The estimated 47 businesses affected by JJ, each of them grossing at least $5 million a year, don‘t work for the city. But the city, using vast redevelopment resources to make it easy to do business, has worked big time for them, or so goes the pro-JJ thinking. The hotels, which charge as much as $400 a night for a room, and other businesses should pay a little back.
It has been a rough, combative campaign. There’s history there. Two years ago, as the Santa Monica City Council tried to craft a living-wage ordinance, the beachfront hotels came up with their own version. Proposition KK, as it was called, used all the seductive rhetoric of social progressivism, but it was in fact a cunning attempt to pre-empt the council from taking any future action on the living wage. The measure was handed an overwhelming defeat by the discerning Santa Monica electorate. Then, after the City Council finally approved its own living-wage measure, the hotels and their allies successfully petitioned to have it put on the ballot. That‘s Measure JJ.
The cast of characters here remains roughly the same. Proponents of JJ are led by the Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees Union and the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, a small social-action group that led the effort for Los Angeles’ living wage. The opponents, under the banner of FAIR (Fighting Against Irresponsible Regulation) are once again dominated by the big hotels, which have raised most of the $1.8 million that FAIR has thrown at the issue in two years. The Employment Policies Institute, a lobbying arm of the large restaurant chains and a partisan in numerous living-wage battles around the country, provides them with a theoretical basis for the campaign -- the hair-raising predictions about ways the living wage will devastate Santa Monica. And running the campaign once again is the Dolphin Group, a Westwood-based consultant firm specializing in conservative causes. It was the Dolphin Group that, among other things, helped to sink Michael Dukakis‘ 1988 presidential bid with the famous Willie Horton ads, which exploited racial fears. a
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