Originally published Monday, March 18, 2019.
Like an uninvited guest, Unite Here Local 11 has arrived in West Hollywood with its own interests in mind rather than its host’s. Residents of WeHo should know what they’re in for.
Local 11 portrays itself as a champion for workers, but in fact the union has a lengthy history of alleged unfair labor practices. Dozens of its own members have filed charges against the union, alleging emotional abuse, threats and pervasive neglect. One union whistleblower recently voiced these concerns in a public video (though he asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation). This whistleblower discussed how the majority of his colleagues opposed the union’s self-serving agenda.
Local 11’s penchant for pushing people around doesn’t stop with its own members. According to the Los Angeles Times, Local 11 has of late been stalking the online wedding registries of soon-to-be brides. The union leaves public messages in the “guestbook” section which aim to discourage these women from holding their weddings at the Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes. Resort president Terri Haack claimed the union “intimidated some groups into canceling events, which costs our employees hours and tips that they will never get back.”
The reason why? Local 11 hopes to pressure the resort into signing a deal that would secure new dues-paying members for the union, weddings—and employee well-being—be damned.
WeHo got a taste of these Terranea-style tactics with the union’s opposition to the Robertson Lane hotel project. The reason for the opposition was never particularly clear: The owner offered to prioritize the hiring of local workers, pay a wage of $15.37 an hour, and provide “panic buttons” for hotel employees. These standards met or exceeded the standards the union has supported throughout Los Angeles County. No matter: Local 11 launched a vicious campaign against the hotel development, suggesting with little evidence that the development was insufficiently respectful of the location’s history.
The union’s interest, as always, was creating a new source of dues-paying members: “We want union people to maintain the hotel after it’s built,” said one Local 11 employee at a WeHo council meeting.
Local 11 has garnered limited support on the WeHo Council, portraying itself as a champion of both workers’ and women’s rights. But the union’s zeal for speaking out against worker abuse was nonexistent when the director of its affiliate—Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE)—stepped down last year amid a sexual misconduct scandal. Local 11 provided support checks and shared office space with CLUE, where female employees alleged that CLUE’s director was “committing wage violations and inappropriately withholding pay” as well as “making inappropriate sexual remarks and inappropriately touching female employees’ breasts and thighs.”
When asked why the alleged misconduct was allowed to go on for so long, one source said: “The board was interested in the photo-ops and not interested in oversight.”
For a supposed-progressive organization, Local 11’s values often contradict those of the communities they organize in. Consider Local 11’s latest contract at the Hilton in Anaheim. The agreement bars the hotel from introducing “programs that allow guests to go without room cleaning for several days.” This means pro-environment policies that enable guests to reuse linens, save energy on vacuuming, and reduce the use of chemicals in the housekeeping process are banned. The missed opportunity is significant: After implementing its Make a Green Choice Program, the Marriott hotel chain “lowered its energy use by 13.2 percent” and lowered its “greenhouse gas emissions by 15.8 percent” in almost 10 years.
The union has been active for years in Santa Monica, and it finally seems to have overstayed its welcome; a survey last year of city voters found that nearly 60% wanted the union to have less influence with City Council. It’s an important word of warning for the City Council in WeHo: When Local 11 comes knocking, don’t answer the door.