A national anti-union organization took aim at UNITE HERE Local 11, the regional hospitality workers’ union earlier this month, spurring responses from Santa Monica leaders.
“I’m a big believer in the role labor unions can play in addressing the great gulf of income disparity in the United States,” Santa Monica Mayor Ted Winterer said in an email to Santa Monica Next Thursday. In his email, Winterer noted the role unions play “in restoring middle class wages.”
“I’m not pleased to see that a right-wing anti-union web site is attacking one of our local labor unions. As I understand it, the Beltway insider who is behind the web site was once an attorney for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which for years has denied the role humans play in climate change — that speaks volumes to me about the politics behind eyeson11.com,” Winterer said.
The “Beltway insider” Winterer referred to is Richard Berman, who has been a vocal opponent of living wage measures and whose firm has set up similar websites attacking the Environmental Protection Agency and the American Federation of Teachers.
The site, which launched at the beginning of January, claims that the union is only concerned with expanding its membership base and is doing so at the expense of residents’ quality of life. The launch of the website was coupled with an op-ed by Luka Ladan, the communications director for Berman and Company, that ran in both the OC Register and the LA Daily News.
In the op-ed, Ladan cited the conservative anti-development group Residocracy’s criticism of Santa Monica’s Downtown Community Plan. After months of community input, the city council approved a the Downtown Community Plan last year. The plan consisted of an overall reduction in height limits throughout the downtown and allowed for the possibility of three sites to have projects up to 130 feet tall, dependent entirely on city council approval. The website also fails to note that hotels are a major source of tax revenue for the city, funding services for residents, workers, and visitors alike.
“‘The Center for Union Facts’ — what a laughable misnomer. This is far-right, not center, anti-union, not union, and fables, not facts,” Councilmember Kevin McKeown wrote in an email to Next.
“Those of us who’ve struggled alongside local workers to achieve fair wages and dignified working conditions know that employees join unions for solidarity and empowerment. I think we just have to trust that Santa Monicans know conservative corporate crap when they see it,” he wrote.
The site also takes a shot a UNITE HERE’s role in helping defeat Measure LV in 2016. The local union worked with the grassroots organization Santa Monica Forward to campaign against the draconian measure which would have required a public vote on nearly every project over three stories tall. [Disclaimer: Jason Islas served as director of communications and community outreach for Santa Monica Forward’s No on Measure LV campaign]
“Santa Monica Forward stands in support of our ally, Unite Here Local 11, in advocating for good-paying jobs, safe working conditions, and affordable housing in Santa Monica,” Santa Monica Forward said in an official statement issued to the press.
“We reject the recent attacks on UNITE HERE from an ultra-conservative outside lobbyist that opposes environmental, labor, and public health safeguards. We are proud to stand with UNITE HERE Local 11, and with all progressive Santa Monicans, in defense of the core values that keep our community strong,” Forward’s statement reads.
The Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce, which has recently been at odds with the union over the question of labor peace in restaurants on public land, sought to distance itself from the push by Berman’s firm.
“The Santa Monica Chamber is not affiliated or associated with this website or the Center for Union Facts in any way. We have no further comment,” Chamber President Laurel Rosen said in a statement.
And Councilmember Gleam Davis said, “As a community, we value civil discourse and this website clearly doesn’t meet that standard.”
Winterer agreed that the interjection of the website was not helpful, even if there were disagreements at the local level.
“Have there been times where Local 11’s goals have arguably been incongruent with our city’s? Sure. But those issues ought to be addressed within our community, not by an outside organization which cloaks its funding and true goals behind an opaque veil,” he said.