Workers at Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel scored a major victory last week in their longstanding fight to organize a union. The hotel chain agreed to stop trying to defeat the union campaign and to allow employees to sign union cards instead of holding an election.

For more than two and a half years, Loews Hotel has battled its employees over the process for recognition of a union. Last Thursday, Loews decided to “adopt a neutral and positive position” and allow employees to sign union cards at their own discretion and away from the prying eyes of management. Santa Monica’s living-wage advocates considered it a coup, since the battle between employees and management has been plagued by union-busting techniques and intimidation, which include hotel security barring clergy members from meeting with hotel management.

“It was very clear they didn’t want union representation at all,” said Alexia Salvatierra, executive director of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice. “In that climate, if there was a traditional National Labor Relations Board election, there never would have been unionization. It is quite a wonderful and beautiful miracle.”

Loews acknowledged that the hotel lost some bookings because of its anti-union tactics and the monthly protests by the community, politicians and clergy. In a written statement to employees, Loews agreed to end “our previous adversarial relationship and replace it with one of mutual respect.”

“We certainly suffered from the demonstration and disruptions to the business,” said Sara Harper, regional public-relations director for Loews Hotels. “There were specific groups that canceled because of the demonstrations.”

The employees will begin signing union cards in January. If more than 50 percent of the hotel’s 200 non-management workers sign cards, the hotel will recognize the union and begin contract negotiations. Loews has also agreed to allow an arbitrator to set terms of a contract if one isn’t reached within six months. In return, the union promised to end its pickets and demonstrations outside the hotel.

The pact comes as living-wage advocates are picking up the pieces from last month’s defeat of Measure JJ, which they blamed on a series of misleading slate mailings sent out just before Election Day advising Santa Monica residents to vote for prominent Democrats who supported abortion rights and education. The same mailers urged voters to vote “NO on JJ” — implying that the top Democrats shared that opinion. The measure would have required employers earning more than $5 million per year to pay workers at least $12.50 per hour, or $10.50
per hour plus health-care benefits. The measure lost by 745 votes.

“There is a labor battle in the Santa Monica hospitality industry with most of the large hotels actively opposing unionization,” said Derek Smith, an organizer with Santa Monicans Allied for Responsible Tourism. “That is why this issue is not simply about living wage but who controls the city. It is not just about stopping a living wage but making sure there is a pro-business agenda.”

But Smith sees the Loews victory as a step in the right direction. “It is a very good example of hotels and workers and the community working together to do the right thing,” he said. “We advocate for a better life for workers, and Loews realized that.”

Last Friday night, more than 100 members of the community, including living-wage advocates and Loews’ employees, celebrated their recent victory. “We are not going away. We are just thinking about what our next step will be,” said the Reverend Sandie Richards. “We know that Santa Monica believes in a living wage. There is still a need for a living wage.”

Advertising disclosure: We may receive compensation for some of the links in our stories. Thank you for supporting LA Weekly and our advertisers.

LA Weekly