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Loews, Union Reach "Historic" Agreement

By Jorge Casuso

Dec. 12 -- In what was billed as an "historic" moment, Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel and the local union on Thursday announced an agreement to hold a "card check" election, breaking a 2 1/2 year stalemate that made the luxury hotel the focus of a bitter labor battle.

Under the Card Check Neutrality Agreement, the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union will stop all marching, picketing and demonstrations at the 340-room hotel and Loews management will remain neutral while workers decide whether to sign union authorization cards.

If the majority of the workers sign the cards, Loews would join the Fairmont Miramar and Pacific Shore as the City's third union hotel. The agreement was hailed by both sides in a hotel meeting room packed with more than 100 workers, union leaders, clergy members and local and state officials.

"Today marks a new beginning of cooperation," said John Thacker, the hotel's managing director. "After 30 long months, it was evident that both parties had the best interests of employees in mind. We are both reasonable people, our interest is to expedite the process."

"There will be no more war of words. There will be a turning down of the volume," said Alan Momeyer, the hotel's vice president of Human Resources. "Our employees should not be in the middle of this anymore. They should have the right to decide."

"This is the beginning of a new relationship," said Maria Elena Durazo, president of HERE Local 11. "We want to make sure that this is an environment where the employees feel totally free to make a decision.

"It's a win-win for the workers, it's a win-win for the city of Santa Monica, and it's a win-win for business," Durazo said. "We feel we will come out of this moving forward."

The agreement breaks a deadlock between the union, which was pushing for a "card check" election that requires hotel management to remain silent on the matter, and hotel officials, who were willing to hold an election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

For more than two years, hotel officials steadfastly opposed a card-check election, while union organizers stood firm in their belief that an NLRB election is a faulty process because it allows hotel management to take a position and the result can be appealed.

"Previous issues centered not on whether Loews employees had the right to choose union representation - a principle on which both Loews and HERE agreed - but rather on what would be the most effective and democratic means for employees to exercise that right," said a joint statement.

"The agreement announced today is similar to those used in many other cities as a way to avoid labor-management strife around union organizing campaigns," the statement said.

Top state and local officials welcomed the end of a unionizing campaign launched in May 2000 that included rallies attended by hundreds of union supporters, reports of threats filed by workers with police and complaints filed with the Justice Department.

Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante called the agreement a "model" and "a defining moment" in labor relations being watched by the world.

"The state has been watching, the world has been watching an amazing process take place," Bustamante said. "I find it a wonderful moment not just for Santa Monica, but as a model that an accord can be reached… that allows both sides to win." The agreement, he said, "is a defining moment not only in this industry."

"This decision empowers the hotel to be a better hotel, and it empowers the workers," said Mayor Pro Tem Kevin McKeown.

Next month, the union and hotel management will hold joint meetings with employees to explain the agreement, which makes the following provisions:

  • The hotel will adopt a neutral and positive position on the issue and will not say or do anything to oppose the union.

  • The union will not threaten or coerce employees in an effort to get them to sign union cards and will end all marching, picketing and demonstrations directed at the hotel.

  • Starting in January, union organizers will be allowed into the employee cafeteria and other non-public areas to talk with employees about the union.

  • If a majority of hotel employees sign union authorization cards, the hotel has agreed to recognize the union and negotiate in good faith for a union contract.

  • The results of the card-check election will be determined by an impartial outside person.

  • If after six months the parties cannot agree on the terms of the union contract, either party may request that any items still in dispute be decided by a neutral arbitrator.

Labor leaders are optimistic Loews workers will follow the lead of employees at the City-owned Pacific Shore Hotel, which two years ago became Santa Monica's first unionized hotel in more than half a century after workers took part in a "card check" election mandated by the pro-labor City Council.

Loews, said labor leader Miguel Contreras pointing at the hotel's name on the podium, stands for "Let's Organize Every Worker in Santa Monica."

"I am really proud to be standing here today congratulating the hotel and workers for taking the high road," said Contreras, the executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. "It really shows what's good for business can be good for workers and vice versa."

Contreras said that the "mutual trust and respect" shown at Loews is "different from other hotels here in Santa Monica. This should be a real beacon on how to move forward."

Addressing the crowd in Spanish, the lieutenant governor told the crowded room, "Se puede," or "it can be done."

"Se pudo," or "it has been done," came a reply from the crowd.

"This is an historic moment," Rabbi Neil Commes-Daniel said in his opening remarks, "when both know this is not about victory or pride. It is about shared purpose.

"This is a very American moment when we share our differences," he said. "This is a day of hopes and dreams and promises. It is filled with confidence. It is also filled with prayer."
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