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OPINION -- Local 11’s Anti-Environment Track Record Doesn’t Bode Well for City’s Climate Agenda

By Charlyce Bozzello

The Santa Monica City Council’s Climate Action & Adaptation Plan can only succeed in making the city “climate resilient” if everyone plays their part.

As Mayor Davis asserted, “This plan is a call to action for our government, businesses, and residents” ("City Seeks Public Input on 'Climate Action' Plan," February 27, 2019).

But, there’s one actor whose loyalty to the cause should be in question: Unite Here Local 11.

For years, Unite Here has fought against hotel policies that encourage guests to “go green.”

Just last year, the union launched strikes at Marriott hotels across the country. It was protesting, among other things, Marriott’s Make a Green Choice program.

The Make a Green Choice program, which was pioneered by Starwood hotels and popularized after the chain was acquired by Marriott, encourages guests to make the environmentally friendly decision to forgo housekeeping.

The benefits include saving water by reusing towels and linens, using less electricity for vacuuming, and reducing the amount of chemicals used to clean hotel rooms.

Not only is this program appreciated by guests, it seems to actually work. According to Marriott, guests save “37.2 gallons of water, 0.19 kilowatt hours of electricity, 25,000 BTUs of natural gas, and 7 ounces of cleaning products” each day they opt out of housekeeping services.

Thanks to the program, the hotel chain claims to have “lowered its energy use by 13.2 percent, its water use by 7.7 percent and its greenhouse gas emissions by 15.8 percent between 2007 and 2016."

Plenty of hotels have followed Marriott’s lead by starting their own environmentally conscience housekeeping initiatives.

For a city like Santa Monica, which boasts several hotels and a thriving tourism industry, programs like Make a Green Choice could have a huge impact on the city’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint.

However, Local 11 seems determined to put a stop to the "go green" movement at hotels in Los Angeles County.

The union’s most recent contract with the Anaheim Hilton stipulates that the hotel chain cannot “introduce programs that allow guests to go without room cleaning for several days.”

Unite Here claims Green Choice programs hurt workers by causing hotels to cut staff hours. More likely, the union’s animosity toward the program stems from its concern over a possible drop in membership dues.

If this move to outright ban Green Choice programs in Anaheim didn’t make their true motives clear enough, consider another creative and telling way Unite Here has leveraged these programs to its own financial benefit.

After a Marriott in Hawaii implemented a Green Choice program, the Unite Here local demanded the hotel reduce the number of rooms housekeepers must clean, hoping the hotel would have to hire an estimated "20 more housekeepers to adjust."

Far from addressing any environmental concerns, the union wound up with a deal that ensured it more members -- whose monthly dues the union could pocket.

The same deal likely left the hotel with higher labor costs and a diminishing environmental return on the impact of its Green Choice initiative.

With that type of bargaining record, the question remains: How far can Santa Monica’s hotels go to help reduce the city’s carbon footprint before the union pushes back?

If the City Council is truly dedicated to implementing its climate plan, they might want to make sure their friends at Local 11 aren't just interested in "going green" when it comes to the union’s own bank accounts.

Charlyce Bozzello is a communications manager at the Center for Union Facts.

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