- The Washington Times - Monday, August 13, 2001

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Despite heated opposition by large hotels and other tourist businesses in this ultra-liberal bastion by the Pacific, the nation's first municipal minimum-wage law almost surely will receive a field test before voters have a chance to repeal it in November 2002.
It's the latest twist in a political chess match that has persisted for 23 years in the beach city conservatives often deride as the "People's Republic of Santa Monica."
Even though opponents of the so-called "living wage" ordinance mounted an immediate campaign to gather 5,700 petition signatures and place a repeal measure before city voters, the same ultra-liberal city council majority that passed the law late last month can delay a vote on repeal until November of next year, four months after the targeted local minimum wage takes effect.
The current 5-2 city council majority belongs to the leftist political organization, Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights, which has controlled city government since a 1978 campaign orchestrated by activist Tom Hayden.
While many cities have "living wage" laws that guarantee wages above the federal minimum to workers for firms that work under municipal contracts, the Santa Monica law is the first for companies not involved in government contracts.
The minimum wage will affect all businesses that take in more than $5 million per year in gross income while operating within a small zone near the city's broad beaches that attract millions of visitors yearly from all parts of the world.
About 40 businesses qualify. In practical terms, this means the minimum wage will apply principally to hotel maids, gardeners and restaurant workers, who have campaigned unsuccessfully for higher wages and union representation during much of the last decade.
Analysts here consider it unlikely that the city council majority, after passing the law, would set an early special election for the repeal of their own action.
"Underneath the glitzy appearance of this area lies deep poverty," said Miguel Contreras, chief of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, which has led hotel union organizing efforts.
Those efforts were thwarted repeatedly in representation elections, but union organizers charged that workers who sympathized openly with their organizing efforts were systematically fired.
Reacting to those charges, city council members included in the new law a clause protecting workers from being fired or harassed for being proponents of the new law or providing information to opponents of the repeal referendum. That clause took immediate effect.
They also passed an emergency ordinance requiring initiative or referendum sponsors to reveal their funding sources every 10 days during a petition campaign and forcing petition carriers to reveal to questioners whether they were paid.
"We are not talking about mom-and-pop businesses here," said Councilman Kevin McKeown, a Green Party member. "These are the luxury hotels. We've made history with our vote, and we have a law that is just and fair."
Tom Larmore, a lawyer and leader of the repeal campaign, called the disclosure law "absurd" and "a very bad precedent."
But he guessed it "will not have a meaningful effect on our campaign."
He said the minimum wage is unconstitutional because it discriminates against one class of business in a particular location. He said it would force many businesses to shut down.
In another campaign led by Mr. Larmore, hotels and other businesses tried last year to get city voters to adopt a ban on local living-wage ordinances. That measure lost by a 4-1 margin.

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