By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Hahn also committed himself to reverse a number of Riordan transportation policies — again, under pressure from Villaraigosa. He vowed to use his considerable clout at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (on whose board he’ll control 4 of 11 votes) to get the MTA to drop its appeal of the consent decree that requires the district to purchase hundreds more buses. He promised as well to lower bus fares — and, again, these are pledges to which bus-rider advocates must hold him.
Though its candidate lost the mayor’s race, L.A.’s civic left enters the Hahn years with considerable clout. During just the past three weeks, for instance, while the city’s political attention was riveted on the mayor’s race, L.A.’s labor-community progressive coalition won two other groundbreaking victories of national importance. In Santa Monica, a coalition of hotel and restaurant workers, clergy, and community activists prevailed upon the City Council to enact a living-wage ordinance that applies not simply to employees of city contractors, but to employees of all large-scale businesses — chiefly, luxury hotels — in the city’s beachfront area. In essence, these living-wage activists — in a jurisdiction outside L.A.’s city limits, to be sure, but hailing from L.A.-based organizations — prevailed upon that city to create a municipal living wage for a class of private-sector employees.
In downtown L.A., meanwhile, a similar coalition of living-wage advocates, unions and (in this instance, low-income) community activists reached a similarly unprecedented agreement with the managers and owners of Staples Center. In this instance, the Staples folks are soon to go before the City Council to seek approval for a mega-development around the arena and convention center. (“Mega,” in this instance, means one or two hotels, a 7,000-seat theater complex, a number of high-rise apartments and a collection of stores.)
Such is the clout of the union movement, and so tight is the new alliance between the unions and the neighborhood organizations that make up the Figueroa Corridor Coalition, that the friendly folks at Staples — owned chiefly by billionaires Philip Anschutz and Rupert Murdoch — decided to sign a compact with the unions and the coalition before they went to the council. The community compact stipulates that many (by some estimates, 70 percent) of the 5,400 jobs that will be created within the new complex be living-wage jobs, complete with health benefits. It mandates a local hiring and job-training program for low-income residents in the vicinity of the project. It requires that 20 percent of the housing be set aside for low-income tenants in the area, and that additional funds be provided to nonprofit developers who will build other affordable-housing projects. It designates further developer funding for the creation of new parks in the area. The union compact, which negotiators say is all but complete, will enable hotel and theater workers to join unions without opposition from management — effectively ensuring that at least half the newly created jobs will be unionized.
L.A. County Federation of Labor chief Miguel Contreras puts the Staples agreement in context: “In the old days,” says Contreras, “major developers agreed to pay a prevailing wage, basically a union wage, to the construction workers who built their projects. Recently, this has been extended [beginning with Trizec-Hahn’s Hollywood-Highland project] so that the service-sector employees who work in the buildings after they’re done being built get a living wage, too. With Staples, we add a third leg: The developers also agree to include the community on the list of those who benefit from their project.”
All of this, it should be noted, is taking place on the final ticks of Richard Riordan’s watch, and the coalition that brought this agreement into existence will certainly not grow any weaker under Jim Hahn. More broadly, nothing could really undermine L.A.’s civic left — unless the backlash of the pro-Hahn unions against Contreras, who engineered the Fed’s endorsement of Villaraigosa, unexpectedly runs amok. Plainly, there are some Hahn supporters who want labor to subordinate its goals to those of the new mayor. Hahn’s victory, Congresswoman Maxine Waters told the L.A. Times, means that “instead of [unions] going to him with their agenda, they are going to have to say, ‘How can we work together?’ and ‘What would you like to see done?’” (Ever the friend of the working stiff, that Maxine.) Hahn’s labor supporters presumably don’t want to go that far.
Besides, it’s precisely Contreras’ daring — vigorously backing a succession of pro-labor candidates in one hotly contested election after another — that has played a key role in transforming L.A. from a moderately Dem- ocratic city to a kick-ass union town over the past five years. It is inconceivable that the kind of compact crafted at Staples would have even been hatched absent the political program that Contreras orchestrated. Should the Fed now move, as a few Hahn supporters have privately suggested, to requiring a total consensus of its hundreds of locals before endorsing a candidate (a policy that applies within the local Building Trades Council, which, not surprisingly, made hardly any endorsements this year), labor will lose much of the power it has amassed since Contreras took the helm at the Fed. Even the most vengeful of the pro-Hahn unions can’t really want the movement’s nose cut off to spite its face.
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