The Battle Over a Proposed Hollywood Hotel Just Got Real Ugly

A bus bench ad in Downtown L.A.
A bus bench ad in Downtown L.A.
Courtesy of Unite Here Local 11

There's an advertisement popping up on bus benches all over Hollywood reading: "No Homophobia... No Support For Anti-LGBTQ Hotels!" Below, the campaign's website: KeepHollywoodQueer.org.

The ads are part of an aggressive protest against the Ivar Gardens, a proposed 21-story, 275-room hotel on Sunset and Ivar, across the street from the Arclight Hollywood, on the site of what is currently a Jack in the Box. The organizers of the protest are not some gay rights group, but rather Unite Here Local 11, a powerful union that represents 23,000 hotel, airport, and food service workers in California.

The principal target of the union's ire is Bill Wilhelm, the president of RD Olson Construction – the Orange County-based construction arm of RD Olson, the developer of the would-be hotel. Wilhelm, Unite Here has charged, has ties to Legatus, a sort of Catholic business leader networking group. The group is virulently anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage, and believes that homosexuality is a disorder that may be "cured" with "conversion therapy."

Days after Unite Here's first press conference attacking the hotel, Wilhelm announced he was resigning from Legatus, writing in a letter, "Although I remain a devout Catholic, some of Legatus’ beliefs regarding sexual orientation and women’s rights do not represent my own."

Problem solved? Not so fast.

"He did sever ties with Legatus – not because he had a change of heart, but because he was feeling pressure," says Andrew Cohen, spokesman for Unite Here Local 11.

Legatus or no Legatus, Unite Here Local 11 still has some demands – and not all of them have to do with LGBTQ rights. Cohen says the union wants the new hotel to guarantee "card check neutrality" – a simple and anonymous way for workers to join a union. It also wants the hotel to commit to hiring a local and diverse workforce.

"We want the company to commit to numbers," says Cohen, "commit to percentages of their workforce, that they will have a fair representation of the community the hotel – African Americans, people of color, and LGBTQ workers."

A protest organized by Unite Here Local 11
A protest organized by Unite Here Local 11
Courtesy of Unite Here Local 11

That last demand notwithstanding, it's hard for some not to see this as a unionization campaign masked as any LGBTQ rights campaign.

"It’s a bullying tactic by the labor union to get what they want," says RD Olson spokesman Joey Sanchez, who says that the protests broke out after negotiations between unions and RD Olson CEO Bob Olson turned sour. "This stemmed from Bob talking with some of the labor unions for construction and hotel workers. When Unite Here got involved, they were feeling that they were not going to get a contract for the hotel. Which Bob, he sometimes does and sometimes does not do, depending on the area. Obviously, labor unions are more expensive and harder to deal with. Unite Here got wind of that, and they started a smear campaign. The only thing they had was this tie with Legatus."

Cohen says Unite Here has a number of allies in the Keep Hollywood Queer campaign, including the Los Angles LGBT Center, the Wall Las Memorias Project and the TransLatin@ Coalition.

But a spokesman for Los Angeles LGBT Center says that although organization met with Wilhelm and encouraged him to sever ties with Legatus, the organization is not on board with the Keep Hollywood Queer campaign.

"While we’ve always been strong supporters of fair wages and practices — and the Center is a union organization — we have not taken a position on this development," says LGBT center spokesman Gil Diaz, in a written statement.

City Councilman Mitch O'Farrell, who represents the area that the hotel would be in, supports the project, and he did not hold back in his criticism of Unite Here's protest, saying in a written statement:

Unite Here is zealously claiming the RD Olson hotel proposed on Sunset Boulevard will discriminate against the LGBT community. In my experience there has been nothing homophobic about RD Olson's approach to this project. In fact, they have agreed to work with me to create an LGBT jobs pipeline. My record reflects that I believe in fair wages and good working conditions, but as a gay man, I am extremely disappointed that Unite Here has sought to drive a wedge within my community in this way.

Neighborhood activist Luke Klipp feels the same way.

"I’m not entirely sure how keeping a Jack in the Box keeps Hollywood queer," says Klipp. He adds: "As a gay man, it’s a little offensive that someone would claim to fighting for my rights in this way. I’m generally pretty supportive of the union and of local 11. I think they do good work. I just wish the campaign on this was a little more honest."


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