Ever wonder what would happen if workers were able to decide whether to form a union without fear of retribution from management? Wonder no more. Last week, employees at the Holiday Inn on Highland Avenue in Hollywood presented cards from 71 percent of the hotel’s 107-member work force stating that they wished to be represented by Local 11 of the Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees (HERE) — and lo and behold, an official of the federal government declared that Local 11 was authorized to bargain for those workers. What’s more, it had taken the union all of six days to persuade the first 65 percent of the workers to sign up.

All this would be unremarkable in Canada, or other civilized nations, where management opposition to workers’ efforts to unionize is forbidden. In America, where one in 20 workers on unionization campaigns is fired and where management routinely violates federal labor law rather than allow its workers to band together, management’s hands-off procedure at the Holiday Inn is all but unheard-of. But when mega-developer Trizec-Hahn purchased the hotel in October 1997, as part of its ambitious theater-hotel-retail project west of Mann’s Chinese Theater, it needed some political oomph to win the requisite approvals. At the prodding of Council Member Jackie Goldberg, the L.A. Alliance for a New Economy and Local 11, it agreed to stay neutral in any unionization efforts at the Holiday Inn, as well as urging the retailers in its shopping center to pay their employees a living wage.

Under previous ownership, the hotel had broken an earlier unionization campaign, in 1993. But a core of union supporters stayed together until Trizec-Hahn came along and changed the rules. “A union organizer could come into the lunchroom and talk with the workers,” HERE researcher David Koff marveled. “Workers weren’t scared to talk about the union with their friends. This was totally unusual.”

So unusual, in fact, that the Hollywood Holiday Inn is the first L.A.-area hotel to be unionized since 1984. Local 11 leaders are hoping that a similar management-neutrality agreement will help them unionize the proposed Convention Center hotel downtown. The idea that workers can vote for a union without fear of retaliation is still light-years from the norm — but Local 11 is working on it.

—Harold Meyerson


Beating A Rap

Former Riverside County Sheriff’s Deputy Tracy Watson is finally copping to something — child endangerment. Watson, who gained notoriety as one of the two officers involved in the 1996 videotaped beating of two Mexican immigrants in South El Monte, was arrested in May for threatening his two stepchildren and wife with a gun. The arrest, however, was no ordinary matter — it took nearly a dozen officers to subdue their former colleague, who was holed up inside his Norco home with an array of guns.

After some hemming and hawing, Watson pleaded guilty last month to two counts of misdemeanor child endangerment. This Monday, he was in a Riverside Superior Court courtroom, where he was sentenced to four years’ probation and assorted other requirements, including attending a court-approved anger-management counseling program and 240 hours of community service, and told to stay away from any firearms.

The sentence marks the first time Watson admitted his temper had gotten the better of him. The former deputy had a history of throwing tantrums while in uniform. He faced use-of-force questions in at least four incidents, including two shootings, before the notorious videotaped beatings, according to court documents. He was eventually fired from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, but not before the county was forced to pay $740,000 to the pair clubbed by Watson and his partner, Kurt Franklin. He was cleared in two other cases and has one civil case pending.

While Watson’s lawyer declined to return our calls, attorneys for the two Mexican immigrants weren’t quite so close-mouthed. “I think this speaks to the amount of deference that police officers are given,” said Sam Paz, an attorney who successfully represented one of the beating victims, adding that Watson’s temper was finally addressed by Riverside County officials, who, unlike federal and L.A. County prosecutors, weren’t afraid to go after a cop.

—Sandra Hernandez



ABCs of Labor


ABC Inc., in the midst of a monthlong lockout of its broadcast technicians, has reported that everything continues “to operate smoothly and seamlessly” without the union employees. Let’s see.

Locally, television anchors at KABC are reportedly complaining about unairable news copy (if you can imagine that) written by scabs. Then there was the magical moment in New York when David Westin, president of ABC News, was spotted begging actor Adam Sandler to cross the picket line to appear on Good Morning America. Sandler refused. And on election night, so many Democrats refused to do interviews with ABC that Peter Jennings had to announce that the network was not making a conscious decision to lean to the right by airing only Republican viewpoints.

The locked-out workers include more than 2,400 members of the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians (NABET) — camera operators, news writers, producers and others — who’ve been replaced with scabs.

But help of a sort is on the way. Two weeks ago the National Labor Relations Board ruled the lockout is legal, and a California judge recently issued a temporary restraining order to keep union members from protesting in the background of scab-crew interviews. Meanwhile, Michael Eisner, ruler of everything Disney — ABC’s parent company — was honored in November by UCLA’s Anderson School of Management for exemplary leadership.

—Greg Brouwer

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