Workers protest at a local hotel Credit: Scott Snowden

The union representing local hotel workers has filed paperwork to raise Santa Monica’s minimum wage to $30 an hour for the hospitality industry.

Unite Here Local 11 filed a notice of intent with City Hall on Tuesday and if approved by voters, the new $30 per hour wage would be the highest in the nation.

Santa Monica has dual minimum wage tracks. Most employees are subject to a $16.90 per hour minimum wage with increases tied to the annual Consumer Price Index. The wage for hotels and businesses operating on hotel property is currently $19.73 per hour matching the City of Los Angeles Citywide Hotel Worker Minimum Wage Rate.

Under the proposal, the hotel wage would increase to $30 an hour within a month of the measure passing. It would also require hotels to sanitize and clean rooms each night, prohibit the use of contract or temporary employees to clean rooms, make hotels liable for violations incurred by temporary staffing agencies and limit the workload on custodial staff.

“I have to work two jobs to be able to live in Santa Monica. Some coworkers live all the way out in Palmdale, Lancaster, San Bernardino or Riverside,” said Salvador Garcia in a statement. Garcia is a Santa Monica resident and hotel worker who is serving as one of the official proponents of the initiative. “I signed onto this initiative so that more of us would have the opportunity to live nearby.”

In the statement, the union said more than half their members have moved or will move in the near future because of high housing costs in the area.

“According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a single mother would need to make over $40 an hour to afford a 2-bedroom apartment in the Los Angeles area, still well above the proposed minimum wage,” said the Unite Here statement. “Meanwhile, the hotel industry in Santa Monica is booming with rates above $600 a night and revenue exceeding pre-pandemic levels.”

The initiative comes as the union is in the midst of contract negotiations with several hotels in the area. Hotel workers have been organizing strikes and protests since July 1 when their agreement with the hotel operators expired.

Under the expired contract, the lowest paid union members made between $20-$25 an hour. The union wants an immediate $5-an-hour raise with an additional $3-an-hour raise for 2024 and 2025. The hotels have proposed wage increases of $2.50 per hour in the first 12 months of the contract and $6.25 an hour over the next four years, as well as continuing current health care plans and pension contributions.

Any proposed ballot measure has to clear several hurdles before reaching voters. The notice, filed on behalf of three Santa Monica residents, is now with the City Attorney’s office for review. They have 15 days to prepare a summary and write a title for the measure. At that point, proponents would have 180 days to gather signatures from at least 10 percent of the city’s registered voters. As of February, Santa Monica had 67,580 registered voters meaning the union would need about 6,750 signatures to qualify.

If they do gather enough qualified signatures, the petition would go before the city council who could choose to adopt it as an ordinance immediately or put it to voters (there’s an option to ask for a study on the impacts of the measure during the first hearing but ultimately, a qualified proposal has to be adopted or voted on by residents).

The timing for a public vote on the proposal is unclear at this point as it depends both on the signature gathering efforts and restrictions on the city’s ability to hold a special election. Santa Monica’s elections are traditionally consolidated with Los Angeles County’s election cycle. The Council has the ability to call a special election at any time but Santa Monica lacks the infrastructure to hold an election without county support and the cost of any special election would fall entirely on City Hall.

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...