Escalating the city’s battle for a living-wage ordinance for hotels near Los Angeles International Airport, City Council President Eric Garcetti has urged potential visitors to boycott the LAX Hilton because of ongoing labor problems. In a seven-paragraph letter addressed to “hotel patrons” and obtained Thursday by the Daily News, Garcetti details workers’ calls for a boycott amid labor disputes and urges visitors to book at locations in the city away from the LAX area. Garcetti also notes worker unrest at other Century Boulevard hotels and says: “The hotels have taken a strong stance against paying their workers a living wage. “To protect your event and support workers, I urge you to honor the boycott and avoid booking at the Hilton Los Angeles Airport Hotel until the dispute is resolved,” Garcetti wrote in the letter dated Feb. 27. “This is one of those examples in our organization where we have good people of good will on both sides of this issue,” Collins said. “Having said that, there is nothing good for us that comes from a labor dispute. “What this letter does is heighten attention to the issue, which is what I’m sure is the intention. But I do have to say, I wish it weren’t there.” Tourism big business Tourism brings in more than $13 billion a year to the local economy – the largest for the region. Meanwhile, the long-struggling downtown Convention Center has only recently begun to show a profit after years of running annual deficits in the $20 million range. The city has agreed to heavily subsidize a luxury hotel near the center in hopes of boosting convention business. Matt Szabo, a spokesman for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, said the mayor had not seen the letter and was unavailable for comment Thursday. Villaraigosa is headed for Miami and a U.S. Conference of Mayors panel on poverty. Garcetti would not comment on the letter. His spokesman, Josh Kamensky, said it was provided to the union to send to potential LAX Hilton customers. “This is an endorsement of the workers at the hotel,” Kamensky said. “Eric was very involved in the hotel battle, and he was asked to write this letter of support of the boycott. He felt it would be inappropriate not to respond.” The letter was requested by UNITE Here, the union that represents hotel and restaurant workers, as part of its effort to pressure change at the Hilton hotel. On its Web site, the union calls for a boycott of LAX Hilton. James Elmendorf of the Living Wage Alliance, which has supported workers’ efforts, said Garcetti’s letter helps the union highlight the issues. “We don’t know if it really affects their business, but it lets potential customers know what’s going on here,” Elmendorf said. Elmendorf said the union has sent copies of the letter to companies that have done business at the Hilton in the past. Grant Coonley, general manager of the LAX Hilton, said the letter will have a ripple effect. “We don’t just compete in Los Angeles,” Coonley said. “We compete across the country. I have a 1,200-room hotel, and if someone receives this letter, I think they’re going to say, `Why bother coming to L.A.?’ It doesn’t just hurt us. It hurts the whole region.” Jack Kyser, chief economist of the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp., called it an unusual move by an elected official. “It’s an interesting development when you have a labor dispute,” Kyser said. “Usually, it’s just the union trying to block business. It’s rare to have an elected official send out a letter. I think people might step back and say we’ll just stay away from L.A. for the time being.” Kamensky said Garcetti made clear in the letter that there are a number of alternatives to the LAX Hilton in the city. Debating implications The letter provides information on contacting the Los Angeles Convention & Visitors Bureau as well as referral to a union-backed Web site for more information on the labor dispute. “We want people to come to L.A. and have a good time,” Kamensky said. “We just think they will have a more enjoyable time if they are at a hotel where there is not any labor strife.” But Harvey Englander, a spokesman for the LAX-area hotels, said the letter has broad implications. “This is a labor dispute, and the government should not be sending out letters like this,” Englander said. “The last time I looked, the convention and tourism business brings in a lot of money to the city. I don’t see how it is responsible for a city official to get involved like this.” The LAX Hilton is one of a dozen hotels in the area that is in court with the city about a proposed living-wage ordinance. Under the ordinance, 13 hotels along the Century Boulevard corridor would be required to increase workers’ pay to $9.39 an hour with health insurance, or $10.64 an hour without health benefits. The business community has strongly opposed the ordinance since the City Council first approved it in November. Council members have argued that the city can require the higher wages because the hotels directly benefit from their proximity to LAX and city-sponsored airport modernization. But the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce teamed up with hotels and spent $800,000 to gather more than 103,000 signatures to put the ordinance on the May ballot, with the hope that voters would overturn the law. To head off an expensive election, the City Council repealed the ordinance and introduced a new law in mid-February that kept the living-wage requirements but also promised $1million for street improvements near the hotels and $50,000 to develop a marketing plan for a new Airport Hospitality Enhancement Zone. But hotels and the business community argued that the ordinance was essentially the same and challenged it in court. Earlier this month, the business community won the first round in its legal challenge. A judge ordered the city to delay the law’s implementation until she has a chance to consider the issue in May. [email protected]
(213) 978-0390160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Labor disputes about unionization and wage issues have roiled the hotels in recent months, but the direct involvement by a city official drew outrage and concern Thursday from business, hotel and tourism officials. “In my 32 years of Chamber of Commerce experience, it is unprecedented for an elected official to communicate with out-of-town visitors discouraging their patronage of a local business,” said Gary Toebben, president of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and a vocal opponent of the living wage ordinance. “The LAX Hilton pays $5.6 million a year in taxes. The Hilton operations include 10 hotels and its global headquarters in Los Angeles. “A letter like this sends the wrong message about Los Angeles and to Los Angeles businesses that are trying to attract customers to this region.” Michael Collins of L.A. Inc., the agency responsible for luring conventions to the city, said he worries that the letter could discourage some people from visiting the city.