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In the 10 years Edith Garcia has worked as a housekeeper at the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel, she never met any of the top bosses. They always ignored her when she walked by, Garcia said, and any requests for a meeting fell on deaf ears.
But last week, a ride in Santa Monica’s City Hall elevator achieved for a moment what her requests and a vociferous union-organizing campaign had never accomplished. That elevator ride, from the first floor to the second floor, brought the administrators of the non-union hotel face to face with Garcia and other pro-union workers.
The Tuesday encounter began when three Loews managers arrived at City Hall and had to pass by a rally attended by more than 50 union supporters, who greeted them with a round of boos.
Charged by speeches and chanting, the demonstrators followed the hotel brass through the lobby toward the elevator, where a handful squeezed in with management just before the doors closed. They immediately began to ask questions: Why did the hotel hire ”union busters“ and additional security? Why won‘t management talk to the workers or let them freely organize?
”They didn’t know what to answer,“ Garcia said after the elevator ride. ”They felt very uncomfortable. They got in the corner. They stayed quiet and looked at each other. They were scared. It made me feel good because we are the ones who are always afraid. We made them feel the way they make us feel at work. That was a victory.“
But if anything, the chance meeting underscored the contrasting perspectives.
”I absolutely was not intimidated or threatened,“ said Alan Rose, the director of community relations for the Loews corporation, who was in the elevator with Skip Hartman, Loews‘ regional vice president, and Dick Seifert, who is in charge of labor and human relations for the corporation. ”We could have gone through the back door instead of walking past the crowd. They didn’t want to talk in a reasonable manner. We told them that if they want to talk to us, they can visit us in our office.“
And that‘s about where things stand between management and pro-union workers at Loews. The two sides remain deadlocked. The key issue: How to decide the fate of a union for the 375 employees at the 325-room luxury beachfront hotel just south of the Santa Monica Pier.
Hotel officials -- who took out a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times’ local insert last week -- say they are willing immediately to hold an election supervised by the government‘s National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). In the ad titled ”An Independence Day Letter,“ they noted that such elections are used across the country to form or reject unions, and that they give workers the privacy of a ballot box in which to cast votes.
Union organizers, in contrast, want to settle the matter of union representation through a card-check process. Under that format, workers have the option of signing a card signifying their support for a union. At the point that a majority of workers have signed cards, the union is recognized. Nationwide, unions are moving increasingly toward the card-check system because, simply put, it is a more effective method of getting a union approved. And for that very same reason, management, if they oppose the formation of a union, invariably oppose a card-check.
The NLRB elections are a ”faulty process,“ said Kurt Petersen, the lead organizer for Local 814 of the Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees Union (HERE). An NLRB election opens the door for management to conduct an anti-union campaign, he noted. And if management crosses the line of legality, by intimidating workers or even by firing union supporters, it could take years for the NLRB to rule that a transgression occurred. Moreover, said Petersen, ”We could win an election, and it could take years before it’s certified. They know this. They know all the tricks.“
The elevator was not the only room at City Hall where hotel honchos got singed. City Council members made it very clear where they stand, unanimously approving a resolution denouncing ”union busting“ and calling upon local businesses to ”respect worker dignity, management neutrality and the right to choose union representation without intimidation.“
Although the resolution itself is purely symbolic, it was an unmistakable message to hotel officials, as was the grilling by council members that preceded the vote.
”Santa Monica is a community where bullying the vulnerable is not acceptable to us,“ said Councilman Kevin McKeown, who sponsored the resolution. ”We cannot allow those with power and privilege to ignore the community.“
Company officials -- who said they found out the resolution was on the agenda by accident -- were taken aback.
”This is a sham,“ Rose said after the meeting. ”This is the first time in my 35-year history [with Loews] where city government has come out and blatantly taken sides on an issue that‘s not appropriate to them. It’s just blatantly unfair. They made up their minds before the meeting. They made us sound like we‘re union busters.“