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Labor Issues Take Center Stage in 2018
By Jorge Casuso
December 21, 2018 -- Labor issues took center stage once again in Santa Monica, as City officials cracked down on businesses violating Santa Monica's minimum wage law, while the powerful hotel workers union tested its longstanding clout at City Hall.
By year's end, the City had hiked its fines for wage violations and directed staff to draft a groundbreaking ordinance to protect housekeepers from sexual violence and heavy workloads, but not without some push back.
Hotel Workers Union Flexes Muscle at City Hall, Attacked by Foe
UNITE HERE Local 11 -- which has been a powerful force in Santa Monica politics for two decades -- made headlines in 2018 by continuing to delve into local development wars and pushing for "historic" legislation.
But the union, which approaches year's end in a contract stalemate with the Fairmont Miramar Hotel, was met with a barrage of criticism from a new foe.
Just days into the new year, Eyes on 11, part of the anti-union Center for Union Facts, debuted its Santa Monica-focused website with a fresh attack on the union ("New Anti-Labor Online Site Attacks Hotel Union for Pro-Development Push in Santa Monica," January 4, 2018).
Its first post accused Local 11 of using disruptive tactics to push for big hotel developments fought by Santa Monica neighborhood groups so it could amass dues from its members.
By month's end it had attacked the union for using its clout to win a nod from the City Council for a controversial seven-story hotel ("Local Union Criticized for Lobbying Santa Monica City Hall for Seven-Story Hotel," January 31, 2018).
Union officials quickly punched back, calling the anti-labor group “an extreme right-wing organization with a hateful, anti-worker, anti-environment agenda" run by "an east coast Republican who likens himself to Donald Trump."
The barrage of attacks would continue throughout the year.
City Cracks Down on Wage Violators
LA County enforcers were busy this year continuing to crackdown on businesses violating Santa Monica's new minimum wage law that went into effect on July 1, 2016.
In January, City prosecutors announced they had resolved a case against Merchants Building Maintenance LLC, a janitorial/security services company involved dozens of wage violations ("Santa Monica Prosecutors Resolve Second Case of Minimum Wage Law Violations," January 24, 2018).
In July, City officials reported the LA County enforcers had responded to 19 wage inquires between the fall of 2016 and April of this year, resulting in ten investigations involving 110 employees ("Minimum Wage Law Has Had No Major Impact on Santa Monica Economy, Report Finds," August 2, 2018).
Four months later, the Council unanimously voted to dramatically hike the fines in an effort to strengthen the law's enforcement ("City Council Hikes Fines for Living Wage Violations," November 30, 2018).
Council Tackles Labor Issues
In 2018, the Council backed the hotel union's push for a groundbreaking labor law, but it also sided with Santa Monica leaseholders on a longstanding union goal.
The vote to nix a motion that would require restaurants to sign labor peace agreements on all City leases put to rest a brewing battle with the local business community ("Santa Monica Leaseholders Get Break as Minimum Wage Hike Kicks In," July 2, 2018).
Businesses had argued the proposed requirement was unnecessary because the City’s leasing guidelines already protect workers seeking to organize ("Santa Monica Business Leaders Seek to Block Proposed Labor Peace Agreements," June 25, 2018).
They also worried the restaurants already were facing a July 1 hike in the hourly minimum wage from $12 to $13.50.
Four months later, the Council handed the union a major victory when it directed staff to quickly draft an ordinance to protect hotel housekeepers ("City to Draft Groundbreaking Ordinance Protecting Santa Monica Hotel Workers from Sexual Violence," October 26, 2018).
The proposed ordinance requires hotels to install "panic buttons" in all guest rooms, protect hotel workers from "unreasonable workloads" and provide comprehensive education and training for supervisors and staff.
Strife Caps Eventful Year for Union
The year would end with the potential for increased labor strife as the union threatened a workers' strike at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel ("Miramar Hotel Workers Threaten to Strike," December 10, 2018).
The union, which has been negotiating for months with two dozen regional hotels, is seeking a minimum of $25 an hour by the end of a proposed four-year contract and a boost in pension contributions that guarantee workers at least $1,000 per month.
Negotiations with the Miramar also include protections when the nearly century old hotel closes for redevelopment, union officials said.
The year would also close with another attack on the union by Eyes on 11.
This one centered on the November resignation of Rabbi Jonathan Klein as executive director of Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE), one of the union's staunchest allies.
Klein's resignation came "amid allegations of sexual harassment and workplace abuse," according to a report in the Jewish Journal ("Leader of Social Justice Group Involved in Santa Monica Organizing Efforts Resigns," November 26, 2018."
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