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OPINION -- What 2019 Taught Santa Monica About Unite Here Local 11

December 20, 2019 -- From what we’ve seen over the last year, City officials continue to put the wishes of Local 11 over the wishes of city residents, writes Charlyce Bozzello from the Center for Union Facts.

By Charlyce Bozzello

With 2020 just around the corner, it’s time to review what Santa Monica learned about Unite Here Local 11 in 2019.

Start with Local 11 co-president -- and current candidate for the Democratic National Committee -- Ada Briceño, who was accused of age and race discrimination against her own employees.

This was back when she was president of Local 681 (which is now merged with Local 11). Four employees brought a successful lawsuit against Briceño’s union which detailed “daily discrimination, harassment, and accusations.”

More recently, another Briceño-led organization -- Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development (OCCORD) -- allegedly developed a similar disregard for the wellbeing of its staff.

Just a few months ago, almost half of OCCORD’s employees resigned due to “burn out, long hours, lax professional development and stale wages.”

Briceño's not the only one who made news this year. We also reported that Local 11 co-president Susan Minato's husband has been on the union’s payroll since 2014 as an “IT consultant.”

He’s earned almost $400,000 total in that role, yet the relationship between the two is not disclosed on the union’s federal filings.

Let’s not forget Kurt Petersen , another co-president, who employed his own daughter as a union “salt” -- meaning, she was hired at a targeted hotel to help with union organizing efforts.

According to Local 11’s financial records, Petersen’s daughter wasn’t paid for her time working as a “salt,” though she has since been identified as a Local 11 staffer.

Despite their questionable track records, these union leaders have had an undue amount of influence at City Hall.

Consider the battle over hotel housekeepers' rights that took place in Santa Monica this summer.

Local 11 fought against hotel employees to eliminate the popular "credit" cleaning system at the city's non-union hotels. The so-called “Hotel Housekeeper Bill of Rights” was found to be harmful to employees -- not to mention it was protested by the very workers it would affect.

It was also a transparent attempt to strong-arm non-union hotels into welcoming Local 11 into the workplace, if only to avoid making the unpopular changes to the workload system mandated by the bill. Public support of the bill was uncertain.

There was a union petition in favor of it, but it turned out to be at least one-quarter, if not one-third, inaccurate. Of the verified names, many were from signers who lived outside of Santa Monica.

The Lookout also reported that most of the city's union hotels required workers to clean more square feet than non-union hotels are limited to under the new law ("Most Union Housekeepers Have Heavier Workloads Than Required by Hotel Ordinance," September 9, 2019).

Despite all this, the Council still voted to pass the bill.

City Council had been working behind the scenes with the union and the City’s Commission on the Status of Women from the start to pass this union-backed law.

Councilman Kevin McKeown even played a role in helping Local 11 add a union-backed “worker retention package” to the bill at the eleventh hour.

Residents might ask themselves what other special treatment the union can look forward to under McKeown’s new role as Mayor.

That is, if he has time for the role, given his documented history of frequent travel on the taxpayer dime ("Santa Monica Council Members Took 49 Official Trips in Past Two Years," December 3, 2019).

But what does this mean for the next battle that’s already brewing in 2020? Local 11 continues to support the development of the “Plaza at Santa Monica,” despite several objections from the community.

Where many Santa Monicans see an unnecessary commercial building, Local 11 sees an opportunity for more dues-paying members.

It doesn’t hurt that the developer has already agreed to sign a neutrality agreement with the union.

From what we’ve seen over the last year, City officials continue to put the wishes of Local 11 over the wishes of city residents. Let’s see which side they choose in the New Year.

Charlyce Bozzello is the communications director at the Center for Union Facts.

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