CITY HALL — About two dozen workers from union hotels across town showed up at City Hall Friday to protest a developer’s proposed project at Fifth Street and Colorado Avenue and raise issues surrounding local hiring and job training.

The workers, from the Viceroy, Sheraton Delfina, and Loews Hotel, turned in a petition to City Hall asking to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour for new hotels, and voiced displeasure at two proposed hotels spearheaded by South Carolina-based OTO Development.

The Courtyard by Marriott planned for 1554 Fifth St. would include 136 guest rooms, while the Hampton Inn & Suites at 501 Colorado Ave. would have 143 rooms. The two properties are directly across the street from each other.

OTO Development didn’t return phone calls by deadline.

The details surrounding a “living wage” are controversial for the workers because the language has been replicated from the 710 Wilshire Blvd. proposed project, said Rachel Torres, research analyst with Unite Here! Local 11, the hospitality workers’ union for the Los Angeles and Orange County region.

The petition stated how the developer’s proposed living wage goes against “the community’s standards.”

“In that project, the way they described the living wage they exclude half of the workers that work at the hotel,” Torres said.

Last year, the City Council compromised on a living wage for future workers at the 285-room hotel at 710 Wilshire Blvd., which left neither business interests nor labor advocates happy. The council approved a wage rate of $11.29  or $12.54 per hour, depending on whether workers also received benefits. Tipped workers were excluded from the provision. The rate was a midpoint between developer Alexander Gorby’s initial offer of $10.64 and $11.89 per hour depending on benefits and a flat $14.97 per hour that workers rights advocates sought. Unite Here! filed a petition for a referendum against the City Council’s decision and began gathering signatures last year. However, one week later the developer agreed to give the union a crack at organizing its future employees.

In the petition turned in on Friday, workers asked for the minimum wage to be raised to $15 per hour, or about $2 more than what has been proposed so far. Torres said when the price of living goes up, the wages go up as well.

“The developer [OTO Development] seeks to reduce the living wage every three years if so desired,” the petition wrote. “After a long recession, the cost of living is projected to increase, and the living wage should follow these projections. There should be no reduction in the wages.”

Moreover, she said the issues surrounding local hiring and job training the union raised at the Planning Commission last month haven’t been resolved either.

At the meeting, union and city officials were concerned the proposals weren’t addressing many of the community benefits associated with the development agreements and also thought local hiring was key. In the end, commissioners asked developers to come back with changes. OTO Development is expected to go back in front of the commission in early October, officials said.

Commissioner Sue Himmelrich said the commission’s concerns were the failure of the developer to reach agreement with city officials on community benefits such as reducing project parking demand and vehicular trips in the area; certain design elements and the developer’s failure to reach out to the local group that’s training youth to work in the hotels.

At the commission meeting, city officials were recommending that the developer contribute to the Colorado Esplanade, a transit mall planned for the area west of the proposed hotels. OTO Development offered a one-time contribution of $300,000 to go toward the esplanade and other projects around town. Commissioners asked them to double that amount.

Torres said feedback from City Hall has been “positive.”

“We believe the city wants to represent the interests of the community and we believe the community is supportive of this,” Torres said. “When we met with them, they were very positive and we are going to have future ongoing discussions with the leadership to make sure those needs are met.”

 

 

ameera@smdp.com

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