As Yet Another Tall Hotel Goes Up at 7th and Wilshire, Question Union Influence in Santa Monica
Tall Hotels Serve Only the Unions, Not Local or Santa Monica Residents
March 2, 2018
After a more than two-year hiatus, Los Angeles' Hotel Figueroa recently reopened its doors. Much has changed since the 1920s-era building last graced the streets of South Park-the commercial center of a county now flush with new hotels.
In 2017, Los Angeles County welcomed 4,300 new hotel rooms, while hotel sales hit $1.7 billion-an increase of $344 million over 2016 sales. Today, there are more than 5,300 hotel rooms under construction in the county, whose residents can expect 10,000 more rooms to open in the next few years.
Under the radar, one local union is reaping the benefits. While hotel development yields many winners-from hotel developers themselves to the tourists filling the rooms-UNITE HERE Local 11 has long advocated for new hotel construction to expand its member rolls. The union is quick to admit it, claiming "Local 11 members in Los Angeles and Orange Counties are making this boom possible."
When the number of unionized hotels increases, so does the number of union dues-payers-the lifeblood of the labor movement. From 2006 to 2016, the number of hotels in Los Angeles County increased by roughly 13 percent, while hotel industry employment
grew by more than 20 percent. At the same time, Local 11's membership essentially doubled, increasing from 11,936 to roughly 22,000 members. Moreover, the union's total assets skyrocketed from about $6.7 million to nearly $13 million.
When a new hotel development is first conceived, Local 11 sees not only self-serving dollar signs, but also a self-reinforcing cycle: With higher dues collection comes more money to spend on pro-development advocacy, which leads to even more union
Local 11 is currently lobbying the Santa Monica City Council to approve a redevelopment plan for the five-acre Bergamot Station Arts Center, which includes a controversial seven-story hotel. Why? Because the hotel developer signed a labor peace agreement with the union, meaning the new hotel could bring with it dozens of monthly dues-payers.
Local 11 has only one problem: Public opinion. Santa Monicans have sent numerous emails to the City Council, stating their firm opposition to the Bergamot hotel development. One resident writes: "Bergamot is one of the jewels in Santa Monica's
cultural landscape, and needs to be protected, not over-exploited. Please do not go ahead with the [hotel] development plans." Another resident called the proposed hotel "out of character with the area," while yet another passionate writer urged
Councilmembers to "consider the voices of the residents of Santa Monica."
But the union's unpopularity extends beyond Bergamot. More than 62 percent of Santa Monica voters oppose Local 11's push for more tall hotels, while almost 58 percent of Santa Monicans believe the union should have "less influence" with the Santa
Monica City Council. The people of Santa Monica are especially opposed to Local 11's disruptive tactics, including early-morning bullhorn use and noisy protests. More than 73 percent of Santa Monicans "don't support" such activities, despite the
union's claims to the contrary.
Therein lies an inconvenient truth for union officials. While Local 11 claims to be "building a movement" hinged on hotel development, its singular pursuit of dues dollars only alienates the union from the Los Angeles communities in which it operates.
Not only have residents spoken out against Local 11's broader goals and its disruptive tactics, but employees are second-guessing the union's promise to represent their best interests. According to the National Labor Relations Board, Local 11 has
been on the receiving end of dozens of unfair labor practice (ULP) charges filed by none other than union members. Last year alone, numerous employees accused the union of bullying, coercion, and other "threatening" behavior.
In one case, Local 11 allegedly threatened an employee with "reprisals" for not supporting the union. On another occasion, Local 11 allegedly tried to get a worker fired without "sufficient notice" for not paying monthly dues. Other employees
claim the union "restrained and coerced employees."
The writing is on the wall: Local 11's hunt for new revenue has human consequences-from residents opposed to skyline-altering hotels and early-morning bullhorns to union members left unrepresented.
As new union hotels crowd the Los Angeles horizon, never forget who stands to gain most and the losers they leave behind.
Luka Ladan is the communications director at the Center for Union Facts.