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Democratic Party Leaders Join Loews Workers' Union Drive

By Lookout Satff

One week before the Democratic National Convention comes to Los Angeles, party leaders announced they were getting behind the mounting effort to unionize the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel during a press conference Friday morning.

Congressman Howard Berman, State Speaker Emeritus Antonio Villaraigosa, Democratic National Committee CEO Lydia Camarillo and State Senator Tom Hayden were among those who threw their political weight behind workers who are trying to unionize the luxury beachfront hotel.

"The question is whose side are you on?" Hayden said. "I would hope the Democratic Party would take the side of the poor and the Loews workers."

At the late morning press conference, the party leaders made public a letter containing the signatures of more than 30 California Democrats at the national, state and local levels calling on the hotel's management to remain neutral in the organizing drive.

The local Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees union has filed more than two dozen complaints with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) charging that the hotel has intimidated and pressured workers into not joining the organizing effort.

"Retaliation against working people who stand up for their basic rights is simply wrong," said the letter, which was signed by Congressman Henry Waxman and Santa Monica Mayor Ken Genser, among others. "Intimidation and harassment do not belong in the workplace or anywhere else in a democratic society.

"Cooperation between labor and management is good for workers, good for employers, and good for the entire community," the letter said.

The letter called for a card check process to determine the fate of a union, rather than the NLRB election process, whose results can be held up for years with lengthy appeals.

Hotel officials, who are calling for an election supervised by the NLRB, said the charges are nothing more than allegations. They added that politicians should not have a role in determining whether the Loews should become the city's second unionized hotel.

"I really don't think this is about the DNC (Democratic National Convention) or local elections," said Loews spokeswoman Jessica Berg. "This is about the local union trying to organize employees. We're ready to have an election."

Loews is expected to be the target of a series of protests starting next Thursday. On Sunday afternoon, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and AFL-CIO head John Sweeney are expected to address a rally in front of the hotel, which sits on a bluff just south of the pier.

Organizers said that while they expect to step up the pressure during the convention - Jonathan M. Tisch, President and C.E.O. of Loews Hotels, is a friend and supporter of Vice President Al Gore - they are not calling for a boycott of the hotel.

"We want to demonstrate to the visiting Democrats that the local Democrats support the Loews workers," said David Koff, a spokesman for the union. "It's never been our policy or our plan to ask people to stay away from the Loews."

Hotel officials said they are not expected to take extraordinary measures to secure the hotel during the protests.

"Our goal is to keep things as normal as possible," Berg said. "I hope things go smoothly."

The Loews has been the scene of regular demonstrations since May 25, when a committee of workers announced that they were organizing a union. Several marches and rallies followed, including a demonstration that led to the arrest of two dozen protestors.

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