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For Members Only: Jonathan Club Leaves Councilmen Out in Cold

By Jorge Casuso

Being a member of the Santa Monica City Council doesn't assure you entry to the exclusive Jonathan Club.

Just ask Councilmen Kevin McKeown, Paul Rosenstein and Michael Feinstein, who were turned back at the front door when they showed up at the beach club unannounced Thursday afternoon in an effort to win back the jobs of two dozen terminated workers.

The council members were part of a delegation of community leaders who charged that the dishwashers and housekeepers picketing outside the gates lost their jobs for speaking out in favor an unprecedented living wage proposal being studied by the council.

"You are trespassing as of now," Carlos Silva, the club's security manager, told McKeown, who had defiantly walked up to the front door with the delegation in tow. "I'll show you respect if you show me respect. As a council person, you should know what the policies and rules are. You should know policies. You set them. You are a policy person."

"Enough of your commentary," McKeown shot back. "I'm here to see Mr. (Paul) Astbury," he said, referring to the club's general manager.

"Mr. Astbury is not available," Silva said. "There is no comment to be made. There's no discussion at this time."

McKeown refused to budge.

"I can wait all night," Silva said. "No problem. I'm on salary. I can stand here. You can stand here, too."

McKeown then handed Silva the business cards of the delegation members, who included representatives of State Senator Tom Hayden, former mayor Dennis Zane, Rent Control Board Chair Bruria Finkel and leaders of several teachers unions.

After a moment of prayer "for justice, for fairness for hardworking people to make a wage that allows them to feed their family," the delegation left, vowing to keep the pressure on.

"They showed no respect whatsoever, but we will continue to fight," said Amber Meshack, an organizer for Santa Monicans Allied for Responsible Tourism, which crafted the living wage proposal the council is studying. "This is only the first step."

Before walking the picket lines, several of the workers talked about losing their jobs without warning on January 19.

"It has been a hard blow," said Claudia Torres, who was a housekeeper at the club. "They told us the club had made a decision to contract with another company that would be cheaper. The worst humiliation was that as we left, our replacements were walking in."

Many of the workers have been looking for a job, but some have had no luck.

"I started looking for work as soon as I found out," said Joaquin Mata, who cleaned the club and helped set up banquets and events. "I've been knocking on doors. I've checked the papers. What's important is to keep trying."

The club's management has said they replaced the workers because the work is seasonal, and contracting out the jobs gives them greater flexibility. The workers, however, aren't buying it.

""I think they fired us for speaking out," said Ricardo Villatoro, who had worked at the club for five and a half years. "We knew that one day or another, they'd let us go."

Eleven of the workers released by the club had publicly supported a trailblazing living wage proposal being studied by the council. Crafted by SMART, the proposed ordinance requires businesses along the coast with more than 50 employees to pay their workers at least $10.69-an-hour, $4 more than what many of the Jonathan Club workers were making.

If approved by the council, the law would make Santa Monica the nation's first city to require private businesses with no municipal subsidies or contracts to pay workers a living wage.

The club's sudden action came three days after a group of business owners calling itself Santa Monicans for a Living Wage filed a ballot initiative with the city that does not cover the hotels and restaurants targeted by SMART's proposal. The proposed measure, which closely mirrors Los Angeles County's law, requires employers who receive at least $25,000 in City contracts for services to pay their workers a living wage of at least $8.32 an hour with health benefits, or $9.46 without.

More importantly, the measure - which must be signed by 9,000 registered voters by May 15 to qualify for the November ballot -- can only be changed or overridden at the ballot box.

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