Los Angeles’s Inhospitality Union
Author: Michael Saltsman
Publication Date: July 2023
Newspaper: Wall Street Journal
They want to impose a 7% guest fee and put vagrants next to tourists in hotels.
Visitors to Los Angeles can soak up the sun this summer, but good luck finding a quiet hotel room.
Thank Unite Here Local 11, the city’s militant hospitality union, which according to federal filings represents more than 20,000 workers. This month, members have gone on three raucous strikes during peak tourism season.
Hotel workers aren’t the only Angelenos walking out. Earlier this month, thousands of actors represented by SAG-Aftra joined already-striking writers on the picket lines, after contract negotiations with their movie studios collapsed. Unlike the Tinseltown talent—who struck over reasonable concerns about artificial intelligence—the demands of Local 11 were considerably less thoughtful.
Start with the loyalty oath, which the union included on the first page of a 55-page demand manifesto. As a condition of labor peace, the union wants 44 Los Angeles-area hotels, represented by the Coordinated Bargaining Group, to sign a public statement of support for a ballot measure that requires them to house the homeless alongside paying guests.
This proposal, which will be on the ballot in Los Angeles in March 2024, won’t do anything to improve housekeepers’ working conditions. In fact, it promises to make them less safe at work.
Next, the union wants unionized hotels to add a 7% tax on the cost of each guest room, on top of local hotel taxes as high as 16% that Los Angeles tourists already pay. The revenue would be deposited into a trust fund established by the union, with total collections estimated at $150 million a year—five times the local union’s current annual revenue. The fund would have broad discretion to spend the money on “housing” or “other efforts” as it deems fit.
Negotiators for the hotels believe the union wants to use new revenue sources to grow its ranks and has accused it of striking on false pretenses.
“Insisting that these provisions must be in any contract settlement and striking to include them is not only unlawful, but it is also a real obstacle to reaching agreement on a contract,” said Keith Grossman, a lawyer for the hotels. On July 6, these hotels filed unfair-labor-practice charges against the union, alleging a failure to bargain in good faith and a refusal to furnish supporting information for the union’s many demands.
But the union can afford to be belligerent: Los Angeles is a union town. The union’s legislative agenda is led by City Councilman Hugo Soto-Martinez, until last year a paid organizer for the union. He disclosed receiving between $10,001 and $100,000 in pay from the union in 2022. This April, he supported a wage ordinance that aids the union’s current bargaining efforts. (An ethics complaint against Mr. Soto-Martinez was filed earlier this year by the Center for Union Facts, a sister nonprofit of our organization.)
Mr. Soto-Martinez and another City Council member were even part of a planned arrest at a Local 11 protest last month. The city attorney followed that stunt with a confidential July 3 memowarning council members not to insert themselves into labor disputes.
Tourists are the real losers here. They don’t have a financial stake in this fight but will pay for it anyway. After suffering through this summer’s strike, the union may saddle them with a 7% additional room tax and homeless guests in the suite next door. The union’s leaders won’t care—but the leadership of a city dependent on tourism should.