New walkout At Five Hotels in Santa Monica After Talks Stall

Hotel workers at five Santa Monica properties walked off the job early Monday after negotiations stalled last week.

Unite Here Local 11 — which represents thousands of cooks, housekeepers, dishwashers, servers, bellmen and front desk agents in Los Angeles and Orange counties — has been urging hotels to agree to sweeping wage increases given how deeply the housing crisis affects workers.

The union last month urged convention organizers and visitors to “stay away from strike-ready hotels” that haven’t signed new contracts with more than 15,000 workers at some 60 properties.

Unite Here Local 11’s key demand for months had been a $5 immediate hourly wage increase and a $3 boost each subsequent year of the three-year contract, for a total raise of $11. Southern California hotel workers have been on strike on and off since July 2.

At the bargaining session Sept. 21, the union made a new economic proposal lowering that $11 total raise to $10.50, union spokesperson Maria Hernandez said. But the union said talks failed when, after a more than three-hour caucus, the hotel company representatives returned without any counterproposal.

Keith Grossman, an attorney representing a group of Southern California hotel owners and operators, said in an emailed statement Monday that the union’s proposal “only took the parties further apart.”

“Unfortunately, Local 11 made no real movement,” Grossman said. “The union’s offer, its new work stoppages, and its continued call for a boycott, which continues to damage Los Angeles and hurts employees, communicates that the union is not prepared to bargain in good faith. We believe it’s time for the union to engage in real negotiations.”

The bargaining session was the first to be held in nine weeks, he said.

Grossman did not respond to questions about specific issues that cropped up in bargaining.

Grossman has repeatedly criticized the union for failing to reach out and resume talks. The union has said it is firm on its wage proposal and that the hotel bargaining group’s wage offers have fallen far short.

Peter Hillan, spokesperson for the Hotel Assn. of Los Angeles, said the proposal, from the perspective of hotel owners, was a step back because the union moved up the start date of hotel contributions to a health and welfare fund by one month, increasing the overall cost of the contract. “That’s a takeaway from where we were earlier,” Hillan said.

German Martinez, who, the union alleged in a labor complaint, was among workers tackled at a picket line in August at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows, said in a union news release Monday morning that “it was disrespectful to see our employer not even address or apologize to us, and instead come back with no offer.”

Martinez has been a dishwasher at the Fairmont Miramar for 34 years. “We will do what we have to do until we get the fair contract we deserve,” he said.

Although workers authorized a strike earlier this summer, they aren’t walking off the job at all properties at once. Instead, they are engaged in rolling work stoppages in which workers at a cluster of hotels walk out for a few days at a time.

Unite Here Local 11 officials have described it as a “strategic decision” to “keep the hotels on their toes and guessing.” The approach also helps the workers’ finances.

Click here to read the full article at the LA Times

What Unions Really Think Of The $15 Minimum Wage

Minimum wage1The Employment Policies Institute (EPI) released multiple ads Tuesday criticizing union leaders for seeking an exemption to their own $15 minimum wage proposal in Santa Monica.

The ads included a newspaper spot and mobile billboard. They called the request for an exemption hypocrisy. Unions have been at the forefront of pushing for the Santa Monica minimum wage proposal. Union leader like Rusty Hicks have also been pushing an exemption to the proposal for unionized workers.

“Labor boss Rusty Hicks was criticized nationwide after he tried to sneak a union exemption to a minimum wage bill he pushed in Los Angeles,” the ad declared. “Now, he’s at it again in Santa Monica.”

Hicks also sought an exemption when his own city of Los Angeles voted in May to increase its wages to at least $15 an hour. This despite him leading the coalition behind getting the measure passed. Despite national criticism, Hicks has since moved on to encourage other cities to increase their wages while exempting unions.

“I think they should ask themselves what’s the motivation,” EPI Research Director Michael Saltsman told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Are unions supporting this just to help themselves and boosts their own ranks.”

Hicks has defended his stance. He argued both the $15 minimum wage and an exemption for unions will help workers.

“This clause preserves and protects basic worker rights and that is why nearly every city in California that has ever passed a minimum wage ordinance has included these protections,” Hicks said back in May. “I would never do anything to undermine the rights of any worker.”

Even other union leaders have criticized Hicks for wanting an exemption while continuing to advocate for a higher minimum wage. David Rolf, president of Local 775 of the Service Employees International Union, questioned the justification behind the request.

Despite this, it is not at all unusual for unions to opt out of laws which raise the minimum wage. According to a report released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce last December, many labor unions are exempt from the various local minimum wage laws they support.

“Not all minimum wage increases come in the same form,” the report notes. “Some local ordinances in particular include an exemption for employers that enter into a collective bargaining agreement with a union.”

The report details how these “escape clauses” are often designed to encourage unionization because they make membership a low-cost alternative for employers. This raises questions about who these minimum wage laws are actually meant to help, according to the report.

Originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation

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Stop sign cameras in mountain parks may take a hike

Stop sign photoThe Santa Monica Mountains are home to nearly 400 species of birds, more than 50 threatened or endangered plants and animals, and seven threatened or endangered photo-enforced stop signs.

State Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, wants to save the ticket-mailing stop signs from extinction, but Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, has introduced a bill to kill them off. In January, Senate Bill 218 will return to the Senate Natural Resources Committee for a second time, after Pavley, chair of the committee, blocked it in May.

“I find it promising that some of my colleagues believe, as I do, that no matter how noble the goal, the MRCA needs to better justify its stop sign camera enforcement program,” Huff said.

MRCA is the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority. It was formed in 1985 when the Conejo Recreation and Park District and the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District joined with the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy to acquire, develop and conserve park and open-space lands. Today MRCA manages 72,000 acres of public lands from Ventura County to the San Gabriel Mountains.

MRCA’s noble goal is the safety of park visitors, whether they are hiking, dog-walking, bicycling, pushing a baby stroller or driving.

In pursuit of this goal, MRCA operates seven photo-enforced stop signs in its parks, which together generate $1.5 million annually in gross revenue. The automated system sends out about 25,000 tickets a year at $100 a pop, jumping to $500 for the third violation within 12 months.

The tickets are mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle as identified from a photo of the rear license plate. Appeals of violations are handled internally at MRCA and then can be taken to the Superior Court — about 50 percent of the tickets are tossed out. They are administrative citations, which don’t count against an individual’s driving record, but unpaid tickets are turned over to a collection agency.

It is disputed whether MRCA’s system, unique in California, is legal under the state’s vehicle code, and whether the placement of the signs is really motivated by safety concerns. Supervising ranger Jewel Johnson told the Senate committee the signs are thoughtfully placed to protect pedestrians and to slow down speeding commuters who use park roads as a shortcut.

But a recent visit to two of the parks calls that claim into question.

Near the entrance to Marvin Braude Mulholland Gateway Park, located at the south end of Reseda Boulevard, a photo-enforced stop sign is placed at a mid-point in the road where there is no intersection. A crosswalk in front of the stop line leads to a hiking trail on one side, but it seems unnecessary to force every car to come to a complete stop on the road leading out of the park if no one is waiting to cross.

The Top of Topanga Overlook is a narrow walkway where visitors can see a wide view of the San Fernando Valley. The tiny park has 16 parking spaces, three picnic tables, a few benches, some deceased shrubs and a photo-enforced stop sign. It nails drivers as they exit the park in a right-turn-only lane that puts them on northbound Topanga Canyon Boulevard. The placement of the sign doesn’t protect pedestrians or slow traffic in the park. It’s just a stop sign at the end of a right-turn lane, and the fines for rolling through it go to MRCA.

The fines also go to Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., a Phoenix company that makes red light camera systems and speed enforcement cameras as well as the stop sign setups.

In June, former Redflex CEO Karen Finley pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges for giving money to officials in Columbus and Cincinnati in order to land contracts. And last year, Chicago ended its relationship with Redflex after a federal grand jury issued a 23-count indictment accusing the company of paying off city officials to get $124 million in public contracts.

Here in California, Redflex has spent $1.2 million lobbying the state Legislature since 2009.

Redflex is opposed to Sen. Huff’s bill, which would make photo-enforced stop signs illegal in the Santa Monica Mountains and everywhere else in the state.

“We all share a common love for our public parks and want people to have a safe and enjoyable experience while visiting them,” Huff said. “We shouldn’t be punishing people who are enjoying a day in the park with an arbitrary ticket.”

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