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OPINION -- Santa Monica's Anti-Worker City Council

By Charlyce Bozzello

After last night's City Council meeting, Santa Monicans should be fully rid of the notion that their city still operates as a democracy responsive to all residents' concerns.

Councilmembers made it abundantly clear that, while they'll partake in the required political theater, Unite Here Local 11's victory is already decided upon.

In a unanimous decision, the Council voted to move forward with union-backed legislation that would mandate controversial and potentially harmful work schedule regulations for the city's hotel housekeepers.

Even though numerous housekeepers testified as to why these rules could hurt them and their place of work, the Council dismissed these concerns with the presumption that they alone know what's best for workers.

One by one, workers lined up and asked the Council to reconsider the proposed scheduling regulations, describing how the law would jeopardize their livelihoods.

Their concerns included worries about losing their full-time benefits, and the inability to earn extra pay incentives through the current cleaning system.

They discussed in emotional testimony how their jobs enable them to support their families and how their employers consistently put safety and well-being first. The City Council was unmoved.

At their worst, some Councilmembers and speakers responded with patronizing questions designed to show they knew better than hotel workers just how this law would impact them.

A low point of the evening came when former Mayor Jim Conn denigrated the women of color speaking up for their livelihoods as "astroturf."

(Conn has his own credibility problems as a surrogate for "workplace protection," given that the organizations he co-chairs--Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice--saw its executive director step down over allegations of sexual harassment and workplace abuse.)

Meanwhile, Local 11-represented hotel employees were unquestioned as they endorsed the legislation as benefiting all workers -- even though union-represented workers are explicitly left out of the law.

This should come as no surprise: The Council's bias on this issue has been clear since the bill's inception.

This legislation came to the City Council via backroom dealings between Local 11, the City's Commission on the Status of Women, and the Council itself which orchestrated the bill's proposal on behalf of their pals at the union.

One Councilmember in particular seems to have acted as the union's "inside man."

Shortly after the final draft of the bill was released, Councilman Kevin McKeown claimed he decided, of his own volition, to add in an additional "worker retention package."

We now know it's much more likely that he was acting on the union's behalf -- Local 11 released a video calling for a "worker retention" policy on that very same day.

Additionally, the Council accepted a "petition" from Local 11 that claims to be signed by 674 supporters of the bill.

At least one Local 11 speaker referenced the petition in her testimony. But the union admitted that "several dozen" names on the list were inaccurate.

More than 30 names were duplicates, dozens of the emails were invalid, and a large number of "signers" weren't even local to Santa Monica --hailing from as far away as Indiana.

To his credit, one Councilmember -- Greg Morena -- recognized that the law as written will deprive employees of a beloved incentive benefit that allows them to earn more as they clean more than required in an eight-hour day.

But even Morena went along with his colleagues in voting for the ordinance.

Near the end of the hearing, some Councilmembers began complaining about the long night and late hour, calling out arbitrary changes to the ordinance as the city attorney edited a Microsoft Word document on the screen behind them.

When applause erupted at the end after the Council's unanimous vote, it was not from the non-union employees but from Local 11 members who won't be disadvantaged by the new workload approach.

Hotel employees were clear about wanting to be heard as individuals:

“We don’t have to pay a fee for someone to speak for us, we can do it ourselves.”

Another was emphatic: "I don't believe that I need someone else to speak for my rights."

But as long as Local 11 continues to act as the "man behind the curtain" at City Hall, the best interests of workers in Santa Monica will continue to go ignored.

The shameful reality is that, once again, the City has prioritized the union's will over the will of its own residents, and the very workers who will be impacted by this legislation.

Charlyce Bozzello is a communications director at the Center for Union Facts


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