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Putting Non-Union Hotel's "Specious Argument" to Bed
By Kurt Petersen
Casa del Mar General Manager Klaus Mennekes' recent attack on the Living Wage Movement, besides being factually incorrect and enormously misleading, begs the obvious question of why the hotel he manages and its sister property, Shutters, are so vehemently opposed to the Living Wage Ordinance. ("Practice What You Preach," August 21)
If his workers earn wages that exceed those found in the Living Wage Ordinance then why should he care if it passes? More troubling, if the law will have no economic impact on these hotels, why have Casa del Mar/Shutters and other Santa Monica luxury hotels already invested more than $1,500,000 to create and campaign for a phony living wage initiative, Proposition KK, and now to put the real Living Wage Ordinance on the ballot in an attempt to defeat it at the polls?
One part of the answer might be that non-union luxury hotels in Santa Monica charge workers hefty sums for health insurance. At Casa del Mar, workers must fork over more than $50 a month for health insurance for their families. At the Doubletree, many workers forego health insurance for their families because the hotel charges more than $100 a month.
In contrast, at Union hotels -- the Viceroy and the Fairmont Miramar -- part-time and full-time workers enjoy guaranteed free full family health coverage. Most part-time workers in the non-union sector are not even eligible for health coverage. The Living Wage Ordinance, as Mr. Mennekes fails to note, requires companies to contribute towards health insurance.
However, the most likely reason for Mr. Mennekes determination to defeat the Living Wage Ordinance is his hotel's desired "flexibility" to cut wage and benefit levels. At Union Hotels, wage rates, raises, and benefit levels are guaranteed. For example, over the next two years, at the Fairmont and the Viceroy, workers will receive hourly raises of $1.15 and $1.25 respectively, in addition to other benefit increases.
At Casa del Mar and Shutters and other non-Union luxury hotels, workers' wages and benefits are anything but guaranteed. In fact, until the Union and the Living Wage movement began organizing in the late 1990's, Shutters' workers earned slightly more than $7.00 an hour. During these boom years as room rates and profits soared, Shutters and other hotels kept wages low, literally doling out 5 and 10 cent an hour raises to housekeepers!
When workers and community members began organizing for a living wage, the companies suddenly found the cash. At Loews, as workers declared their intent to unionize, management almost overnight gave a $2.00 an hour bump. Casa and Shutters did the same. In fact, workers told us that each time we marched near the hotels, they got unprecedented raises. However, Casa and Shutters workers have no guarantees: without the Living Wage Ordinance, wages can and will come down as fast as they went up.
As far as the Ordinance's collective bargaining opt-out language, this provision is standard in all living wage laws. And, contrary to Mr. Menneke's assertion, an automatic opt out does not exist for Union hotels; companies must bargain to opt out of the ordinance's requirements.
In fact, the Viceroy and Fairmont Miramar negotiating committees are extremely proud of the contracts that they fought for and won. They are insulted by Mr. Mennekes' accusation that they do not know how to negotiate and would like to meet with him to explain how they bargain for and enforce their rights at their hotels.
Better yet, they were hopeful that Mr. Mennekes would let them participate in one of the mandatory anti-living wage meetings that he regularly holds with his workers. At the meeting they could discuss with his workers the benefits of sitting face-to-face with their employer to negotiate over working conditions, a scenario currently unimaginable at Casa del Mar or Shutters.
And, to put this specious argument to bed once and for all, the total economic package -- wages and benefits -- for housekeepers, cooks, and dishwashers at Union hotels not only exceeds the Living Wage Ordinance but also every other package at non-union hotels in Santa Monica. But more important than money, Union hotel workers enjoy dignity, respect and a voice on the job, intangible but priceless benefits sadly absent at non-Union hotels.
Finally, in case Mr. Mennekes rebuffs the workers' request to meet, here is a list of some key differences that the negotiating committees have won.
(Editor's note: Kurt Petersen is the Organizing Director for HERE Local 11)
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