Raise LA Campaign Targets Hospitality Industry’s Low Wages

CAPITAL AND MAIN-In an economy where constant, unpredictable change is a given, wages are one of the few things that have remained reliably stagnant. However, a growing national movement to address this increasingly visible issue is taking shape. Locally, Raise LA, a coalition of labor and community groups organized by the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), is part of a push to bring wages up to speed by advocating for better jobs in L.A.’s massive hospitality industry. 

According to a LAANE Raise LA report, “Residents, workers and businesses from communities across Los Angeles are united in the Raise LA Coalition in an effort to ensure that the city’s largest and most profitable hotels support the communities in which they operate.” 

So why is Raise LA specifically focusing on hotels? One in 10 jobs in Los Angeles County is in the leisure and hospitality industry, but this expanding industry is also L.A.’s largest creator of poverty wage jobs. With 40 percent of hotel workers living well below the poverty line, those employed in this business are far more likely to live in poverty than workers in other major industries. This means that making gains for hotel workers can have a significant impact on L.A.’s economy in general:  When low-wage workers earn a decent wage, they are more likely to reinvest back into local businesses, creating an economic stimulus for their surrounding communities. 

Hotel workers’ wages are not so low for lack of revenue — hospitality in Los Angeles is expected to be a billion-dollar industry in 2014. Since the last recession, hotel operators have increased productivity by demanding and getting more from workers, propelling profits past even pre-recession highs. Meanwhile, wages have generally stayed the same. 

However, not only is the hospitality industry huge and extremely profitable, but it’s partially subsidized by taxpayers. In the last 10 years new hotel developments have received more than $1 billion in tax breaks. In addition to tax breaks, low wages also help subsidize the industry. When workers are not paid enough to support themselves or their families, they have little choice but to seek public assistance for food and health care in order to get by. With a large number of hotel workers eligible for such government-provided aid, taxpayers are essentially left footing the bill for hotel operators who refuse to pay their workers enough. 

In light of the industry’s reliance on poverty wage jobs, despite this hefty investment from taxpayers it’s fair to say that Angelenos are not seeing a proper return. 

Civic leaders who want to keep Los Angeles a competitive tourist destination and who support the city’s status as an international business hub are advocating for new development in the hospitality industry. This presents an opportunity to not only improve current conditions for hotel workers, but to influence the future as well. As new jobs are created, Raise LA hopes to have an impact by ensuring that these are good, middle-class jobs, capable of supporting families and sustaining communities. 

This is especially vital to the city’s economy because L.A.’s hospitality jobs cannot be easily outsourced – try getting an offshore call center to deliver you room service in downtown Los Angeles. 

(Joe Rihn is a freelance writer and communications specialist based in Los Angeles. He has worked and volunteered with the Liberty Hill Foundation, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment and Dublab.com. This piece was posed first at CapitalandMain.com) Photo: Outside the LAX Westin’s Daily Grill. (UNITE HERE Local 11)

-cw