Friday, January 19, 2007

Deal or No Deal

No doubt by now you’ve heard all about the Living Wage law that the city passed for the 12 large hotels on Century Blvd., and the fact that the hotels (backed by the LA Chamber of Commerce) have gathered enough signatures to force the Living Wage law onto the ballot as a citywide referendum in the hopes of killing it. (For a primer, you can read more here.)

But hidden in the story (as alluded to recently by Rick Orlov of the Daily News) is an angle that has largely gone unnoticed…

The hotels - which likely could have avoided the entire battle by agreeing to allow unions to organize a year ago - now have indicated they are open to some type of compromise.

Compromise? What kind of compromise is being discussed?

Here’s the answer, according to my labor/community organizer buddies close to this situation:

The Chamber of Commerce would apparently be willing to accept the new living wage law on Century Blvd., if the city and/or the unions would make some sort of agreement not to ever again push any sort of living wage ordinance into law anywhere else in Los Angeles. (An agreement that would, on its face, prevent an L.A.-wide citywide living wage ordinance—of the sort that’s recently taken effect in San Francisco—from being passed).

The mayor, evidently, would favor such an agreement (or at least is open to considering it)… in fact he tried to retroactively insert such language into the referendum that would be trotted before the voters, a move that was nixed by the City Clerk. For their part, the unions and their allies in the progressive community have said "no way" to any such deal, and their supporters in council outnumber the Chamber's supporters on this one (basically, just Smith and Zine). Presumably, talks continue, but there we are at the moment.

But the interesting question is: why would the Chamber of Commerce agree to such a deal at all? The answer: they probably know they’re gonna lose when this goes before the voters (likely sometime in May). First, the Chamber of Commerce apparently was hoping this wouldn’t get to the ballot at all. Evidently the strategy was to gather the signatures and then hope the city backs down (as happened when the city passed a short-lived law banning lap dances). This time, though, the city council didn’t blink.

Second, this’ll be a special election, all by itself on the city ballot, which means the Chamber knows it’ll have to somehow motivate L.A.’s voters to get off their butts and go to the polls for the sole reason of denying other people a pay raise. Seems like a tough sell. Stack that up against the labor community’s proven GOTV power (just ask Arnold about that) and the burgeoning power of the immigrants’ rights community (the great preponderance of Century Blvd. hotel workers are immigrants and people of color), and it’s starting to look like an expensive defeat for the Chamber of Commerce.

Which brings up point number three: this is gonna be expensive for the Chamber. Already they spent $2 million just to gather the signatures. It’ll cost at least $5 million for the Chamber to run the campaign, and probably much more… a tab that the Chamber will wish to pass largely on to the 12 hotels on Century Blvd. But the hotels may very well have second thoughts about paying, in part because some of the hotels aren’t totally on board with this fight in the first place, and also because the hotels need that money for their own anti-union fight. $5 million spent on mailers and commercials around Los Angeles bashing the living wage is $5 million they’d no longer be able to spend within their own walls on union-busting consultants and counter-union actions. That's bad enough for them. But to blow the $5 million on an election they're gonna lose...

You're starting to see why the Chamber might be in a compromising mood.


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