A City Council committee voted Wednesday to raise the minimum wage for non-city employees at Los Angeles International Airport and other city-owned airports by $3 per hour to $14.25 per hour.
Approval by the full, 15-member City Council is required before the raises become effective as part the city's Living Wage Ordinance for businesses within the city's sphere of influence. As many as 5,100 people could be affected.
The Trade, Commerce and Tourism Committee approved the raise. The current Living Wage Ordinance affecting airport-area businesses mandates that employers pay workers $11.25 per hour, or $10 per hour and contribute a $1.25 per hour toward health insurance.
Jerry Kaminski of UCLA's School of Public Health told the committee studies showed the cost of health care for a family was about $8,500 a year.
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Under the proposed raise, employers would have to contribute $4.25 per hour toward health care, and he said that would "almost completely cover that cost -- but not quite."
Kaminski said $4.50 per hour would cover the entire cost of heath coverage.
Security guard Claudia de Leon was emotional during her testimony.
Because she had no employer-paid health insurance, she said she could not immediately find treatment for her 2-year-old son when he was bitten in the eye by a dog. Now, she says she is struggling to pay a $14,000 hospital bill.
"We are so happy because we are hearing hope," she said. "Thank you, thank you so much."
Jim Stevens of the Air Transport Association, which represents airlines serving LAX, said the mandated raises would increase the cost of doing business at LAX and other city-owned airports by $8 million to $12 million annually.
"The current economic health of the industry is extremely fragile due the to stream of shocks that we've endured over this decade," he said. "We can ill afford new increased taxes, fees and regulatory burdens at this time."
He said the industry lost $36 billion from 2001 to 2008 -- $9.5 billion in 2008 alone. He said the number of LAX flights dropped by 14.1 percent in 2008, and passenger traffic was down 4.2 percent in 2007.
"The industry is fighting for survival," he said, and warned that airport contractors may resort to layoffs if the city's minimum wage is increased.
City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who heads the committee, said it would be "worse for economy" if the raises were rejected.
"When people don't have healthcare and don't have benefits, they become a burden on our already strained healthcare system," she said.
Hahn said she hoped the multibillion-dollar plan to modernize LAX would increase flights and passenger traffic.
Nick Sifuentes of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, a nonprofit group representing the workers, said the living wage increase could be passed on to airline passengers.
"What it comes down to is this is a 25-cent increase per ticket sold at LAX. I don't know how the general public feels, but I'd be willing to guess that most people can spare a quarter to provide health care for airport employees and their families."
He said the Living Wage Ordinance would cover about 5,100 employees who work for contractors at the airports, including wheelchair attendants, parking attendants, maintenance crews and some security officers.
About 2,000 of those workers get some form of taxpayer-funded health care, and about 3,100 have no health insurance, he said.