Voters will soon decide whether the minimum wage should be raised for some of the city’s hospitality workers.

If passed in the upcoming March 5 election, Measure RW would raise the local minimum wage for hotel workers to $29.50 by 2028. The current minimum wage for hotel workers was raised to $17.55 under a previous measure that voters approved in 2012, which included annual cost of living adjustments.

Putting the issue on the 2024 ballot was pushed by the Unite Here Local 11 union, which advocated for similar ballot measures in other cities across the region last year. The Long Beach City Council voted in September to put the measure on the March ballot to let voters decide.

For Measure RW to pass, a simple majority of voters would have to vote “Yes” next month.

What you need to know:

Arguments for and against 

An impartial analysis from the city attorney’s office outlines the basics of the measure. If it passes, it would immediately bump pay for hotel workers at eligible hotels — those with over 100 rooms — to $23 per hour. That rate would then gradually inch up to $29.50 by July 2028.

In 2029, the rate of increases would depend on the consumer price index but annual increases to hotel workers’ wages would go up at least 2%. However, the City Council would have the ability to make adjustments to the minimum wage starting in 2029 and those changes would not be subject to voter approval.

Those supporting the issue, which includes Councilmember Suely Saro, who helped write arguments in favor of Measure RW, say that its passage would help struggling hotel workers keep up with the rising costs of rent and other essentials.

“We believe that Long Beach should be a city where everyone, particularly workers, renters, immigrants, and communities of color have real agency and dignity,” Saro wrote. “Your yes vote will bring us closer to that reality.”

Those opposed to the measure say it would hurt the local economy and possibly hinder businesses outside of the hotel industry as they compete with the larger minimum wage.

“Measure RW’s unsustainable wage mandates will devastate our local economy — putting the hospitality sector’s $1.8 billion economic impact and 18,000 jobs at risk,” opponents wrote.

The City Council voted to put the issue on the ballot without getting an independent analysis of what the new wages could mean for the industry or the local economy as firms declined to take on the job due to the short timeframe the council provided.

Who’s running. What’s at stake.

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Who really benefits? 

Before ballots were sent out to voters this month, a legal challenge sought to change the language describing the measure with opponents saying it would mislead voters.

The Long Beach Reform Coalition sought to change a portion of the text because the group believed it did not adequately explain that unionized hotels can opt out of the wage scale if a collectively bargained contract is negotiated.

Most of Long Beach’s hotels with 100 or more rooms have union contracts and the group’s lawyer argued that the ballot question voters will see doesn’t say clearly enough that Measure RW could potentially affect a small number of hospitality workers.

State law requires a “simplified summary” of the issue to be posed to voters and the city’s lawyers argued that the question’s reference to “qualifying” workers was adequate.

A judge did not say the coalition’s argument was wrong, but they did side with Los Angeles County election officials whose lawyers argued that there was not enough time to change the language. The challenge to the language was filed within the legally allowed window.

Measure N, the current law for hospitality workers’ minimum wage, has a similar opt-out for unionized hotels. Opponents have argued that Measure RW is an attempt by Unite Here, which represents tens of thousands of workers across the region, to force more hotel workers into its ranks.

When asked about that allegation, a Unite Here spokesperson said last month that “Long Beach hotel workers are the backbone of the city’s vital tourism industry, and deserve a wage that ensures they can live with dignity in the city they work in.”

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.