Imagine for a moment that you are a housekeeper working in a moderately priced hotel in here in sunny Long Beach. You work long days changing sheets and cleaning floors in the 100 plus rooms of the facility. You make around $9.00 per hour, which is higher than the minimum wage but in no way commensurate with the cost of living in Southern California. As a result you sometimes have to work more than seven days in a row, even if that means significant cuts to the amount of time you can spend with your two young children. You desperately need a raise, especially given your loyal service to this hotel (it’s been over ten years since you first started). When you ask for one, your manager simply says “times are really tough right now. Maybe next year”.
Starting this summer you began to hear rumors that people in the community were trying to get a “living wage” for hotel workers onto the ballot for the November Election. You were happy to hear that the initiative gained enough signatures from the community, and even volunteered to walk precincts and make phone calls on behalf of the campaign (in the rare instances when you had some time off) . Then November 6th came, and you were ecstatic to see that 63% of the voters in the city wanted to make sure that your children had a happy Christmas. You were hopeful that this new year would finally bring you economic security and peace of mind that is synonymous with the “American Dream”.
Sadly those dreams were dashed when your manager, the same man who had constantly opined about his failing business (which always seemed strange given the large numbers of military and aerospace workers who stayed at the hotel), decided to post this notice in the employee break room last week:
A week later you and everyone else you work with are fired. You feel foolish for thinking that the greedy bastard who runs the place would ever do the right thing and pay you what you were worth.Of course he would risk killing his whole business just to save on labor costs. When has a silly law ever changed the hearts of genuinely cruel men?
This is the reality for the workers of the Best Western “Golden Sails”, located at 6285 East Pacific Coast Highway here in Long Beach. A week before the living wage was to come into effect here in the city, the management of this fine establishment, despite losing big at the polls a month before, decided to subvert the intent of the law and ALL OF A SUDDEN enact a long established plan to reformat the hotel into a smaller one that would be exempt from the law. HOW FORTUITOUS.
This of course involves firing all of his long time workers days before the holidays in order to complete this weasel move (they couldn’t even face them while doing it). If the workers “choose” to come back to their place of employment, they will be required to waive all rights to any future lawsuits regarding this blatant attempt to skirt the law (same rules apply if they want severance pay). It’s a masterpiece of douchebaggery on the part of Samuel Leung, who would rather pay his lawyer $500 an hour to come up with this sadistic scheme than give it to the people who keep his cash cow afloat.
But can we really blame Samuel Leung for exploiting his workers in this way? The physical properties of greed as an element in capitalism means that it will flow to wherever there is an opportunity to possibly save money. It is the duty of the government and consumers to work as a check against this tendency of business people to always do the shitty thing, and in this case one side of this bullwark has (as of yet) not done their job. The people created this law by a massive margin and as such the local government has a responsibility rooted in the basic understanding of our democratic system to uphold that law (even if it means possibly offending the precious feelings of our local “job creators”).
The Long Beach City Attorney, Robert Shannon, has proven himself to be a coward of the highest degree regarding this matter. In the recent meeting of the City Council that discussed this controversy, Mr. Shannon stridently defended the interests of the corporations that despised the living wage by insisting that the city, with its well developed and structured civil service, was essentially powerless to enforce any provision of the living wage law. Citing no precedent (and in fact admitting that his own research into the manner was incomplete), Shannon advised the stunned members of the City Council (excluding Gary Delong who was busy playing on his iPad during the proceedings) that he interpreted the “four corners” of the law as essentially existing as an optional law for our city’s hotels to follow.
The city council insists that they are working on an ordinance to prevent retaliatory actions from taking place against the hotel workers who by law are required to receive the kings ransom wage of $13.00 per hour and the UNHEARD OF number of five paid sick days. Let’s do more than just hope that the Council is addressing this issue in due time. A supermajority of the body endorsed passage of the law back in October (Robert Garcia, Suja Lowenthal, Patrick O’Donnell, Gerrie Schipske, Al Austin, and Steven Neal). Two of these fine public servants (Garcia and Lowenthal) even campaigned alongside those of us who hit the streets in support of the law that eventually passed with an almost 2/3rds majority from the voters. It would make sense therefore, for those who supposedly support the welfare of workers to require compliance with the law rather than allowing more privileged members of the community to abuse others and display an utter disregard for the intent and plain meaning of the law.
But instead of simply seething about the inequities of this situation or the disgusting lack of respect for democratic values that these greedy corporations are exhibiting, there are simple acts that you as an individual can perform right now to make this a better holiday for these workers and their families. Today and throughout the Holiday Season, call these City Counselors (and the mayor) and make your voice heard:
Bob Foster (Mayor): 562-570-6801
Robert Garcia, 1st District, Vice-Mayor: 562-570-6919
Suja Lowenthal, 2nd District: 562-570-6684
Gary Delong, 3rd District: 562-570-6300
Patrick O’Donnell, 4th District: 562-570-6918
Gerrie Schipske, 5th District: 562-570-6932
Dee Andrews, 6th District 6: 562-570-6816
James Johnson, 7th District: 562-570-7777
Al Austin, 8th District: 562-570-6685
Steven Neal, 9th District: 562-570-6137
Then call the owner and let him know what you think of this sort of shitty move and that you plan on telling everyone you know to NOT stay there until he shapes up:
Samuel Leung: (562) 596-1631
Keep on these individuals, because at this point they have the power (and therefore the choice) of whether to make life better, or far worse, for the people of Long Beach.