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Santa Monica Chamber Steps into Battle Over Mandatory Peace Agreements with Union
By Niki Cervantes
November 15, 2017 -- Taking aim at the elected leaders of Santa Monica, the local business sector is gathering signatures protesting mandatory “Labor Peace” agreements for restaurants on City property, including popular eateries like the airport’s Spitfire Grill.
In an announcement of the petition drive, the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce said the city’s independent and family-operated restaurants are “under serious threat” from Unite Here, Local 11, the union that is best-known for representing hotel employees.
The City has approved policies enabling Local 11 to use “coercion and intimidation” to get restaurants which rent on City property -- like the picketed Spitfire -- to unionize, said Laurel Rosen, the chamber’s president and chief operating officer.
Rosen also asks that voters keep the issue in mind during the 2018 elections for City Council, when the terms of incumbents Kevin McKeown, Pam O’Connor and Sue Himmelrich expire.
“We don’t believe you should give in to this aggressive union pressure, and we ask that you stand up for the independent local businesses that give our community its unique character,” the petition says.
In a statement sent to The Lookout Wednesday, Local 11 called the petition an "attack" and said the Chamber rejected efforts to mediate a dialogue with the union.
"This is an obvious attack on the union overall," union officials wrote. "We offered the Chamber of Commerce an opportunity to have a leader who is trusted by the business community mediate a conversation with restaurant owners on City land about labor peace, and they declined the offer.
"We do not feel that the petition being circulated accurately represents our efforts to be sensitive to the concerns of restaurants," the statement said.
The petition (at smchamber.com) escalates the controversy around the labor peace agreements, which the City Council is considering as a requirement for most of the 27 tenants on City land who operate food-oriented businesses.
About $4.5 million goes into City coffers from restaurants and operations, such as food vendors, who have leases on City-owned land.
Officials say the agreements will diminish labor-related disruptions like picketing and strikes and bring stability to the City’s revenue stream from tenants.
About 600 full-time, start-time and seasonal workers are impacted, the City said.
Restaurant owners turned out in force in late October during a study session by the council on the peace agreements, arguing they are already struggling to turn a profit ("Santa Monica Restaurateurs Protest 'Labor-Peace' Agreements," October 26, 2017).
Rosen said there is no pattern of employee disruptions at the restaurants included in the new labor peace agreements, and said the argument that pacts are needed has been manufactured by Local 11 to pressure restaurants to unionize.
The Spitfire Grill was picketed by the union multiple times last month. Equipped with bullhorns, the protesters rattled patrons and scared customers away, the owner said -- costing the business about $1,000 per episode.
Local union officials say their demonstrations are an attempt to "protect workers’ job security" in the wake of the closure of Typhoon restaurant ("Santa Monica Airport's Typhoon Restaurant to Close After City Hikes Rent," October 11, 2016).
"We do not want what happened at the Typhoon restaurant almost a year ago to happen again, when 25 workers lost their job in an unexpected closure," union officials said in their statement.
Councilmember McKeown, a staunch union supporter who is facing re-election next year, said he found the chamber’s petition “surprising.”
The “current Chamber leadership has run businesses in the restaurant sector and should know that workers’ rights to unionize are controlled by the National Labor Relations Act, not by the City.
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