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Score Another for the Grown-Ups

By Frank Gruber

At a certain point during the news conference last Thursday at the Loews Hotel, the news conference at which hotel management, local and corporate, and the leadership of H.E.R.E. Local 11 announced their agreement for a new cooperative process to determine whether the hotel's employees want to unionize ["Loews Union Reach Agreement" Dec. 13], I looked around and thought to myself, "Where's the guy in the Darth Vader suit?"

Lest we forget, the past several years of labor strife in Santa Monica owe a lot to the shenanigans that took place at the (formerly-Sheraton) Miramar Hotel, starting in 1995, when management sought to decertify the union at what was then Santa Monica's only union hotel.

New organizers had brought a more activist style to the union (then Local 814), which had been sleepy for years, and management responded by "encouraging" the workers, starting at the front desk, to seek decertification.

Ultimately, the hotel, among other things, required workers to attend "informational" meetings where the hotel's general manager donned a Darth Vader outfit to demonstrate to the workers the scariness of union leadership. In case Luke Skywalker's biological father wasn't scary enough, management printed posters depicting union leaders dressed up like Hitler.

Ultimately the decertification campaign became moot when Fairmont Hotels bought the Miramar. Fairmont had union hotels in other cities and saw no reason why they couldn't make enough money running a union hotel in Santa Monica. They quickly negotiated a new union contract.

Score one for the grown-ups, but for every action, there is a reaction, and nothing energized the labor movement in Santa Monica like the effort to decertify the union at the Miramar.

At first the union made some missteps, trying to pressure the city not to allow Hotel Casa del Mar to take over from Pritikin, an odd tactic for a union that represents people who work in hotels, but ultimately the union hit on a better strategy.

The strategy was two-pronged. On the political front, the union brought the living wage movement to Santa Monica to get the community behind the workers and show management that they could lose even if they prevented unionization.

On the labor front, the union targeted key hotels -- first the Loews, then the Doubletree (and coming up, the Four Points Sheraton) -- where the union and their living wage allies could agitate and demonstrate. These hotels are owned or managed by nationwide chains that, like Fairmont, own or manage union hotels in other cities.

The union strategy has now paid off at the Loews. Union and management have entered into a mutually respectful agreement that should lead to union recognition, collective bargaining, and a union contract.

I like "Star Wars" as much as the next middle-aged dad, but at the press conference it was a pleasure to be in a room full of grown-ups, with no Darth Vader in sight.

* * *

Congratulations to Richard Bloom on his election as our new mayor. I opposed his election to City Council, and have opposed many of his votes, but on the dais Bloom rarely grandstands or goes rhetorical, and I won't deny that he's thoughtful.

We should all wish him good luck -- the next couple years will be tougher for the city than the preceding several.

Council Members Ken Genser and Pam O'Connor told The Lookout before the mayoral vote that the Council's votes for mayor did not reflect politics, but how the council members feel about each other, and about who they thought could best represent the city and run meetings. ["McKeown_Bloom_Vie_for_Mayor," Dec. 10.]

Specifically they said it wouldn't matter that Kevin McKeown, who expressed his desire to be mayor, was a Green Party member.

If who is mayor is not political, then why is the mayor always a SMRR member when SMRR has the majority, and not a SMRR member when SMRR is in the minority?

In any case, I'm happy that we won't have another Green Party mayor the next two years. Not that I didn't think Michael Feinstein ran a good meeting -- he did -- but regardless whether O'Connor and Genser think it matters if our mayor is a Green, the Greens make a big deal about it, and that's enough to annoy me.

But perhaps annoyance clouds my judgment. Based on a bit of political theater that took place during nominations for mayor, it may be that not all Greens care whether a Green is mayor of Santa Monica. What happened was that when Ken Genser diplomatically suggested that the council split the mayoral term into two one-year halves, which would have allowed McKeown to have a turn, no one seconded Genser's motion -- not even Feinstein, McKeown's fellow Green Party member.

Whoa. Word is that McKeown has said not-nice things about Feinstein in Green Party circles, and, of course, back in October 2001 there was that intra-Green Party spat when McKeown led the movement to scrutinize how Feinstein ran local Green Party finances through his back pocket. ["County_Greens_Ask_Mayor_to_Turn_Over_Funds," Oct. 8, 2001.]

I expected that Feinstein and McKeown had buried the hatchet, given how chummy they were during the recent election, but now we know that there's room for good old political payback in the rarefied world of Green Party "grassroots democracy."

How reassuring.

The views expressed in this column are those of Frank Gruber
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Lookout.
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