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Religious Procession Highlights Union Drive

By Juliet McShannon
Staff Writer

Dec. 22 -- It can't be too often that guests at the DoubleTree Guest Suites Hotel witness a nine-month pregnant Mary, bearded Joseph, obligatory angels, Border Patrol official and a group of Santa Monicans singing peace songs on the pavement outside their windows.

Last night, however, DoubleTree guests were not just listening to festive carolers, but rather to a hundred or so workers and their families taking part in a Posada, a traditional Mexican Christmas ritual which includes a candlelight procession, theater and caroling.

The Posada, organized by Santa Monicans Allied for Responsible Tourism (SMART) in collaboration with St. Anne's Catholic Church, depicted the journey of immigrant workers to California to "highlight the social injustice experienced by immigrants here, all desperate people looking for a better life," said Derek Smith, SMART's community organizer.

The procession began at SMART headquarters on 6th Street and included a stop at the Santa Monica Police Station, where an anti-border-patrol skit was staged, and the DoubleTree, which has been targeted by SMART for resisting a card check election like the one that led to the unionization of the Four Points Sheraton this year.

Among the participants in the Posada were DoubleTree employees. One worker, who declined to be named because she said she feared losing her job, complained about the unfair treatment of hotel employees.

"Those workers who support having a union have been discriminated against," she said. "They get more rooms to clean, for example, but not more money."

Father Michael Gutierrez, the pastor of St Anne's parish, said he was surprised at the lack of union support from DoubleTree manager Francois Khoury.

"I don't understand why he doesn't want to help the workers," Gutierrez said. "And, he's a fellow Catholic, too."

Outside Santa Monica Police headquarters, a few bemused officers watched from their squad cars as demonstrators staged a skit criticizing U.S. immigration policy.

One actor dressed as a Border Patrol Agent symbolically let a tinsel bedecked Mary and Joseph through an imaginary border, saying, "Come in, come in. We need to work together as a community. My mother was an immigrant also."

Local Santa Monican Pat Baker vigorously nodded her head in assent. "It's their country anyway," she said. "The Spanish were here first".

The procession ended back at the SMART headquarters for a celebratory feast.

"This is a wonderful event," said Bitte Westerlund, who is visiting for Christmas from Helsinki, Finland. "I lived in Santa Monica years ago and our former maid invited us.

"Now I'm going to take my candle and present it to the ex-mayor Ruth Goldway -- she was a liberal. She would have supported this effort.
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