Santa Monica Lookout Opinion
Stop Blaming the Striking Hotel Workers

March 19, 2024

Dear Editor,

On March 10, The Lookout reported on the American Film Market’s decision to abandon its longstanding presence in Santa Monica and to relocate to Las Vegas (“Santa Monica Loses Lucrative Film Market”).

Reasons cited for the move were expensive hotel room rates; concerns about crime and homelessness; and striking hotel workers.

Clearly there’s not much the public sector can do about room rates in our city. But are crime and homelessness not an issue in Sin City?

Data I looked at suggests that violent crime is much lower in Santa Monica and one website rated the level of crime in our city as “moderate” compared to “high” in Vegas. And the 2023 annual homeless study in Vegas showed an 14 percent increase over 2022 while in Santa Monica the increase was 15 percent -- both cities, like much of urban America, struggle with homelessness.

Clearly, the AFM has not decamped to Brigadoon. So is the local hotel workers union the villain in this story? I think not, in particular because Vegas has long been a union town, with 60,000 hospitality and restaurant workers collectively represented in contract negotiations yielding a living wage, health care and other benefits that allow employees access to a middle-class lifestyle. (And Democrats in Santa Monica should acknowledge that those union workers tipped the scales in Nevada in Joe Biden’s favor in 2020 and will be even more crucial in the 2024 election.)

If the AFM was really concerned about unions it would have chosen a site in a right-to-work state rather than Nevada. Instead, the Lookout’s article makes clear the real reason for the change: the new location “boasts a 14-screen multiplex and a 170,000-square-foot meeting conference and event space.” Santa Monica simply doesn’t have the infrastructure to compete. So let’s stop blaming the striking hotel workers represented by UNITE HERE Local 11.

Many studies have shown that the increasing concentration of wealth in the 1 percent has been in part due to the decline of private sector unions that have historically allowed workers to negotiate for their fair share of the income their labor generates.

Perhaps we should instead be celebrating the endeavors by the hotel workers to address income inequality, housing insecurity and homelessness.

An article posted on the website Invisible People titled "The Role Labor Unions Play in Preventing Homelessness states, “Unsurprisingly, unions aren’t popular among the ultra-rich.

"Better pay means more even wealth distribution in a company, which means less money for those at the very top... As a result, the poor become poorer, and homelessness inevitably rises.”

Tuesday night Mayor Brock and Councilmember Parra are asking their colleagues to approve changes to the noise ordinance that would hamper hotel workers' ability to advocate for a living wage and affordable housing.

But since at least one hotel in our city subject to picket lines has hired migrant refugees from homeless shelters as scabs, perhaps City resources would be better directed towards enforcing our minimum wage law and housekeeper protection ordinance, including adequate training and compensation for heavy workloads?

And what about advocating for justice for the striking workers physically assaulted by hotel security and guests?Isn't that what progressive cities are supposed to do?

The vote Tuesday evening will be telling. Will Councilmembers whose campaigns were supported by PACs funded by non-union hotels align themselves with those special interests -- mostly white, uber-rich elites? Or will they veto the proposed ordinance change, casting a vote that favors the largely Latino hotel work force and their efforts to fight income inequality, to address soaring housing costs and to secure respect and dignity in the workplace?

Their labor in our hotels yield the bed tax revenues that pay for so much of City services -- shouldn’t they enjoy our support? Is our City Council truly committed to its principles of equity and inclusion or only when it's convenient to do so?

Ted Winterer
Sana Monica

(Editor's note: Ted Winterer served on the City Council from 2012 to 2020, and as mayor from 2016 to 2018.)


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