September 4, 2008
Living Wage Discussion Grows Out of LAX Talks
By Art Marroquin
A Los Angeles City Council committee on Wednesday called for a second look at health care benefits mandated by the city's living wage ordinance as part of an effort to expand coverage to airline service workers.The city's living wage ordinance currently calls for paying workers $10 per hour with health benefits and $11.25 per hour without benefits.
The two-tier system has not seen any kind of meaningful updates since the ordinance went into effect more than a decade ago, according to Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who chairs the council's Trade, Commerce and Trade Committee.
"It's up to us to look at whether it's time to update the living wage ordinance," Hahn said. "The differential between those with benefits and those without benefits is not enough."
The health care issue was raised at a time when airline service workers represented by Service Employees International Union Local 1877 are demanding pay hikes, more health benefits and better job training.
Hundreds of unionized janitors, baggage handlers, security guards, wheelchair attendants and other service workers at Los Angeles International Airport called a strike last Thursday, but returned to work less than 24 hours later under a deal brokered by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
More than 5,000 service employees work for private firms contracted by the airlines at LAX, about half of whom belong to the SEIU's airport division. Contract negotiations began in May, but the union's labor pacts with nine of the employers are now expired.
While Hahn is seeking out measures aimed at increasing health benefits within the city's living wage ordinance, the local business community said the timing couldn't be worse as cash-strapped airlines struggle to stay in business amid record-high fuel costs.
"The airline industry is in the midst of a huge economic downturn and we're already asking them to pay for billions of dollars worth of major renovations at LAX," said Gary Toebben, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.
"Now the suggestion is that the wages and benefits for these employees at LAX should exceed the living wage ordinance already in place," he said. "It doesn't seem like a wise proposal one should be offering given the economic climate."
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