Unite Here Local 11, the union representing hospitality workers in the area, has filed paperwork for a second ballot initiative, this time to increase taxes paid by visitors to the city to fund new housing for hotel employees.
Under the new proposal, the union wants to impose an additional 7% tax on hotel rooms and an additional 15% fee on home-share/vacation rentals. That money would be administered by a new seven-member committee for the sole use of promoting, providing and developing affordable housing for hospitality workers.
The city already levies a 15% tax on the total amount paid for rental of a hotel or motel room and a 17% tax on the total amount paid for a room rental from the use of a home-share in the City. If passed the union fees would bring the total to 22% on hotels and 32% on home shares.
Of the proposed seven-member Affordable Hospitality Worker Housing Committee, two would be hospitality workers, one would be an advocate for hospitality workers, two would be experts in affordable housing policies, one would be an expert in affordable housing development and one would be an expert in affordable housing financing. The available paperwork does not require any to be Santa Monica residents but it does prevent anyone from serving on the committee if they work for an organization that is seeking money from the group.
“The initiative comes as it has become almost impossible for many of Santa Monica’s low-wage hospitality workers to even rent a home in the city where they work, let alone to buy a home. To cope, these workers are forced to commute long distances to their jobs, live in overcrowded conditions, and sleep in their cars between shifts. Some even experience periods of homelessness,” said the union in a press release.
Unite Here Local 11 previously filed a notice of intent with City Hall to increase the minimum wage for hotel workers to $30 per hour. 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.
The wage for hotels and businesses operating on hotel property is currently $19.73 per hour.
Both proposals come 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. First, the City Attorney’s office has 15 days to prepare a summary and write a title for potential measures. Then proponents 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 enough signatures are gathered, 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).
If scheduled for an election, it’s unclear just when that would occur with either of the two union efforts. 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.
* Correction/Clarification: The ballot measure applies to all hotel workers in the city. Santa Monica’s existing rules allow Unite Here to negotiate pay rates below the minimum wage in exchange for other benefits pending approval by members.