A judge ruled Wednesday that it was too late to change ballot language on a proposed wage hike for some Long Beach hotel workers despite concerns that it will confuse and mislead voters.

Measure RW, which was advocated for by the hospitality worker union Unite Here Local 11 and placed on the ballot by the City Council, would raise wages for some hotel workers in the city to $29.50 by 2028.

The language on the ballot, which the City Council approved in October, says a “yes” vote would increase the minimum wage “for qualifying hotel workers,” but it doesn’t explain that employees of large hotels working under a union contract could be exempt from Measure RW’s pay scale.

That omission was being challenged by the Long Beach Reform Coalition, a local activist group headed by former City Council candidate Ian Patton. The group argued in a December court filing that the ballot language did not adequately explain that not all hotel workers would be eligible for the raises and should be amended before the March 5 primary.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark Kim on Wednesday denied the coalition’s request for an expedited hearing on the matter, siding with county election officials who testified there was not enough time to amend the ballot language before it starts producing election materials.

Patton, the executive director of the Reform Coalition, said that the county’s testimony suggested that there is no way to correct an error on a ballot because its system is not set up with enough time to review, challenge and fix them. The result, he said, is that this year’s Long Beach election material will include an error.

“We have a known error that’s going to 270,000 voters in Long Beach, and we were not able to have a judge hear us on the merits of that,” Patton said after Wednesday’s ruling.

If voters approve the wage increase, it would apply only to local hotels with 100 or more rooms and would allow hotels with employees working under a union contract to be exempt from paying the higher wages.

Just 15 hotels in the city have 100 rooms or more and only five of those do not have a union contract for their employees, including two Hyatt properties and the popular Hotel Maya.

The Reform Coalition’s filing asked for the language on the ballot to be amended to reflect those potential limitations.

Alexander Haberbush, a lawyer representing the coalition, argued that the omissions violated state election codes, which require ballot summaries to not be false or misleading.

Haberbush also alleged that the measure was merely an “anti-competitive tool tailor-made to Unite Here’s tactical advantage” and was designed to incentivize non-union hotels to accept card check neutrality.

In response, Local 11 Co-president Ada Briceño issued a statement saying, “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.”

Unite Here Local 11 represents tens of thousands of hospitality workers across the region and this summer was at the heart of widespread strikes seeking similar wage increases for its workers.

Lawyers representing the city and the county called for the Reform Coalition’s court action to be dismissed. They said it came too late in the process and that the summary written by the city was adequate under state law.

The city doesn’t need to provide “a complete catalog or index of every detail,” lawyers representing Long Beach said in a court filing. “Instead, the City need only provide ‘a simplified summary,’ and by clearly stating that the Measure only applies to ‘qualifying’ workers, the city has done so.”

The county’s lawyers argued that the court challenge didn’t provide enough time to make changes to the ballots. It’s unclear when the county prints ballots. A spokesperson for the Registrar-Recorder Clerk’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

The county’s calendar shows Dec. 26 as the cutoff date for a challenge to be filed and said in court papers that Dec. 28 was the last day to make any changes to election material.

Doing so now, it said, would require “immense resources, effort and time,” given the roughly 5.6 million vote-by-mail ballots the county plans to send out later this month.

Patton challenged that date, claiming that Dec. 28 isn’t publicly listed anywhere and that the coalition’s request for the hearing was filed on Dec. 26, during the legally mandated challenge window.

Measure RW’s opt-out for unionized hotels is similar to the 2012 Measure N law voters adopted setting higher minimum wages for hotel workers in the city and the 2018 Measure WW law that set limits for the square footage housekeepers would have to clean daily and mandated panic buttons for those workers.

Anaheim voters rejected a ballot measure similar to Measure RW during an October special election.

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