Sounds to me like the city council got too cute and tried to finesse the law in a way that didn’t satisfy legal requirements.
A judge Friday delivered a stinging rebuke to Los Angeles’ labor and political leadership, barring the city from enforcing a ballyhooed new ordinance that would have extended the city’s “living wage” protections to workers at hotels near Los Angeles International Airport.
The eight-page order by Superior Court Judge David P. Yaffe went far beyond merely blocking a law that had been considered a point of pride for the city’s powerful labor interests. As a practical matter, Yaffe dealt a political defeat to the City Council, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the union that championed the law.
The City Council initially passed a living wage law. Hotel interests in the LAX area bitterly opposed paying their workers enough so they could eat, so they collected signatures for a citywide referendum. Then the City Council pulled the law, and replaced it with a “new” one that resulted from a negotiation with business and labor. Apparently that law wasn’t new enough:
Instead of scheduling a referendum, the council rescinded the ordinance and, after talks with the business community, replaced it with a new living wage ordinance.
It included incentives for businesses near the airport, as well as some restrictions on extending living wage protection to other parts of the city. But the hotels and some people who had signed the referendum petition went to court to challenge it.
On Friday, the judge ruled that the new ordinance was essentially the same ordinance. In passing the new one, the council had deceitfully dodged the voter referendum and thus violated the constitutional rights of the public, the judge ruled.
“The elected representatives who enacted the new ordinance tried to make it appear different from the old ordinance,” Yaffe wrote, “but their purpose was to avoid the effect of the referendum petition, not to respect it.”
I would think the best strategy at this point would be to put the law before voters; in fact, I thought so at the time. It’s more impactful for a living wage law to pass that way, and the latest polling shows that it would. Obviously the hotels will fight like hell and raise lots of money to oppose it, so it would be better if unions didn’t have to break the bank ensuring that their workers are paid decently. But that’s more of an election reform issue.