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Council to Take Position on Hotel Union Strike

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By Jorge Casuso

August 18, 2023 -- A Councilmember item on Tuesday's agenda will test the power of the hotel workers union and the backing of strikers by incumbents seeking reelection next year.

In what could be a political litmus test, Councilmembers Caroline Torosis and Jesse Zwick are asking the Council to adopt a resolution "declaring support for the striking workers of UNITE HERE Local 11."

The item placed by two Councilmembers elected last November with strong union support could force the opposing "Change" faction to take a position before what promises to be a hotly contested race for four City Council seats in November 2024.

The stalled negotiations between 44 Los Angeles area hotels and Local 11 has spurred noisy protests at five Santa Monica hotels that have led to complaints from neighboring residents the Change faction claims to represent.

The item is also a test of the power of the hotel workers union, which for two decades has counted on the backing of the Council.

That changed in 2020, when a record three incumbents backed by Local 11 were swept from office by the Santa Monica Change slate during a voter revolt.

The slate –- comprised of Counciilmembers Phil Brock, Oscar de la Torre and Christine Parra –- have clashed on numerous issues with the three union-backed Councilmembers led by Mayor Gleam Davis.

In December 2021, the Change slate -- joined by newly appointed Councilmember Lana Negrete -- dealt a blow to the union by approving new uses at the Shore Hotel, which has been embroiled in a bitter unionizing battle ("Council Breaks With Union, Backs Hotel's Proposal," December 9, 2021).

Last November, the union retaliated against Negrete with the most negative Council campaign in three decades ("Hotel Workers Union Steps Up Attacks," October 10, 2022).

Unite HERE is now flexing its political muscle in Santa Monica by proposing two local ballot measures.

One would create a $30 minimum wage for hotel workers, the highest minimum wage in the country ("Hotel Union Submits Ballot Initiative for Country's Highest Minimum Wage," July 19 2023).

The other would impose a bed tax to create an affordable housing fund for local hotel workers ("Hotel Workers Union Submits Bed Tax Initiative," August 1, 2023).

In addition to the resolution, Torosis and Zwick's item would direct the City Manager and City Attorney to "explore and return to Council with recommendations concerning the adoption of hotel consumer protection and service disruption laws."

The recommendations consider laws "that mandate notification to guests within 24 hours of becoming aware of a service disruption, including anticipated impacts of any durational strikes or picketing activities at or near a hotel."

The item comes as negotiations between the union and a bargaining group representing 44 union hotels in Los Angeles and Orange counties remain deadlocked, spurring increasingly tense protests.

Earlier this month, the union announced it was filing an unfair labor practice charge against the bargaining group for the violence they say workers have experienced on the picket lines ("Tensions Escalate on Hotel Picket Lines," August 8, 2023).

Meanwhile, the hotels have asked police to take concrete steps to "protect guests, employees and our communities" from the "increasingly aggressive actions by picketers," according to the California Hotel & Lodging Association.

Santa Monica -- which in 2017 approved a noise ordinance to allow the union to demonstrate starting at 7 a.m. -- is doing little to address resident complaints ("Protesting Noise -- A Tale of Two Cities," August 16, 2023).

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