Written by Emily Mullins
Long Beach, Calif., residents will vote in November on the issue of a living wage. The voters will be asked to decide if they support a measure requiring area hotels to pay their workers a minimum "living wage" of $13 per hour. Even though this proposal has been on the table for years and large hotel chains are doing what they can to fight it, getting "Measure N" on the ballot was an important milestone, one an area UCC pastor hopes will result in much needed change.
In an observance of Labor Day, Bishop Bonnie Radden, senior pastor of Refiner's Fire Fellowship, UCC, and leaders from two dozen other Long Beach churches, participated in "Labor Day in the Pulpit." Organized by the Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice Los Angeles (CLUE-LA), a nonprofit organization that mobilizes the faith community to stand against workplace injustice, hotel workers spoke about their plights and ministers preached about the issue during sermons Sunday, Sept. 2.
"For a spiritual community, Labor Day is more than a day off with a backyard barbeque," said Radden, who is also an active member of CLUE-LA. "It's a time to reflect on the dignity of labor, and to strive to honor that dignity as a society."
Getting the measure on the ballot was no easy feat. CLUE-LA had six weeks to collect more than 30,000 verified signatures from registered Long Beach voters. The group had to deliver the petition to the city clerk's office for validation, and the city council then had to vote whether to put the initiative on the ballot, which it was unanimously in favor of in May.
Based on Long Beach cost-of-living standards, $13 is the minimum livable wage, Radden said. According to the CLUE-LA website, hotels workers earn an average of $1,300 per month, which does not cover basic living expenses. In addition, workers are often subject to harsh working conditions that can lead to medical problems, the website notes. While the workers are of all ages, they are mostly of Hispanic and Pilipino descent.
"These workers are asked to do things like clean floors on their hands and knees all day, change the sheets for 30 beds while lifting heavy mattresses," Radden said. "One of our speakers has worked for the Hilton for 10 years, earning 10- to 20-cent raises each year. He still makes less than $10 an hour."
One of the main arguments for the wage issue is that the city of Long Beach has invested $750 million to attract tourists, of which the city's large hotels and the convention center receive $114 million in taxpayer-funded subsidies each year. However, these investments are not being passed along to the workers. The hotels fear they will lose money by increasing worker wages, but Radden said that doing so would be a win-win for everyone.
"A living-wage law would have profound effects on Long Beach workers and their families," Radden said. "It would send positive ripples through our local economy and it would make us stronger people."
Radden and the rest of the CLUE-LA activists will continue to fight for the living-wage measure until November. They have already staged protests at some of the larger hotels, particularly the Hilton and the Hyatt, which are currently under a community-wide boycott. The group, which would like to meet with hotel management, is also working to gain the support of the Long Beach city council.
"This is a case of the big guy trying to smack down the little guy," Radden said. "We are just trying to let them know that offering their workers a living wage is the right thing to do."