Is the L.A. City Council prepared to follow Chicago’s lead and demand that big-box retailers pay a living wage of at least 10 bucks an hour? Uh, not likely. Actually, local living wage proponents have focused their efforts on cutting deals for individual projects that require developers to hire workers at a “living wage” of almost $9 an hour with health benefits and $10 without. Those deals have included work in Hollywood and at Staples Center. There’s now talk about the city requiring hotels along Century Boulevard to pay a higher wage. Similarly focused efforts have been seen in Santa Monica, Ventura and Oxnard. The result is that more workers are getting the $9- or $10-an-hour living wage – but not that many more. Last year, a study by the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, a living wage advocacy group, found that just 22,000 workers were covered by the ordinance that requires city contractors to pay the living wage. Of that number, 12,000 were already receiving wages above those levels. Here’s what Madeline Janis-Aparicio, executive director LAANE, told the Los Angeles Business Journal:
Back when the L.A. living wage law was being debated, the business community argued that this was the camel’s nose in the tent, that pretty soon all businesses in the city and the county would have to pay their workers this living wage. But we said at the time that this was meant to be an incremental approach, and sure enough, that’s the way it’s turned out.
Even if LAANE and other advocacy groups decide to change tactics in light of the Chicago vote, they shouldn’t expect much enthusiasm within a city council that has proven pretty pragmatic when it comes to business and development. And for good reason – businesses can move to nearby cities if they find the L.A. climate inhospitable.