The group supporting a new workers’ initiative stand outside City Hall.
10:30am | At noontime Thursday, the Long Beach Coalition for Good Jobs and a Healthy Community staged a kickoff rally in front of City Hall for a proposed ballot initiative to require hotels with over 100 rooms, as well as Long Beach Airport and the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center, to pay their employees a minimum hourly rate of $13 per hour.

“This is a historic day in Long Beach,” said Gary Hytrek, a sociology professor at CSU Long Beach and a member the Coalition’s steering committee. “Today we take the first steps towards improving the working and living standards for hundreds of workers and their families in Long Beach.”

Hytrek and other speakers argued that because such businesses are subsidized by local tax dollars, they ought to be held to a higher standard than the statewide minimum wage of $8 per hour; and that imposing that higher standard would benefit not just the workers themselves, but the city as a whole.

“We cannot ignore the problems that exist here in Long Beach, especially when it comes to the working people, like myself and my co-workers here,” said Debbie Pacheco, a front-desk clerk at the downtown Hyatt Regency. “We’re struggling just to survive. I see it every day in my job and in my community.”

Debbie Pacheco as she files the proposed ballot initiative with the City Clerk’s office.
Romeo Trinidad, a housekeeper at the Hilton Long Beach for the last 11 years, is an example. He says he loves his job because of the niceness of the hotel and of his co-workers, but that the $10.81 he earns per hour is insufficient to allow him properly to take care of his wife and two children. His monthly expenses — $750 in rent, $30 for gas and electricity (he receives a low-income rate reduction), $200 for food, and roughly $250 for phone/transportation/car insurance — leaves him with maybe $200 left over. It’s not quite enough to make the one small improvement to his life he wants most: to upgrade from a one-bedroom apartment to a two-bedroom so that his children can have a room instead of being required to sleep in the living room.

“Long Beach hospitality workers take care of the tourists who support our local economy and our local businesses,” said Pacheco. “They deserve a wage that allows them to take care of their families as well.”

Hytrek noted that although over the last 30 years the City has invested over $750 million in category of businesses addressed by the initiative, today the average annual salary of a Long Beach hospitality worker is less than $24,000. 

“Some of the most vulnerable and marginal[ized] workers in the city working for some of the city’s most profitable global companies,” he said. “No one’s against providing subsidies and incentives to these companies. They bring in resources, they bring in jobs; but there should be some community benefit to that, because they’re getting benefits other companies aren’t. So they should be required to meet a higher standard.”

Hytrek said that about 120 cities and counties — including Los Angeles — have similar living-wage initiatives, and that data do not support the typical criticisms that such measures deter new businesses and drive away established ones. 

Rather, Hytrek insists, the socioeconomic class directly benefiting from such measures tends to recycle the additional money locally, stimulating the local economy.

“We want a Long Beach and a process of development from which we can all benefit, not just a select few,” he said. “[… And u]nless there’s public pressure around these issues, nothing will change.”