By Daniel Larios
September 8, 2014 – The hotel workers union on Friday became the third major political group to endorse only two Santa Monica City Council candidates in the race for three open seats.
UNITE HERE Local 11, which represents workers at four Santa Monica hotels, announced it is backing incumbent Kevin McKeown and former Lookout Columnist Frank Gruber in the November 4 race.
“We chose Frank and Kevin because they both have a strong history of standing alongside us,” said Derek Smith, Political Director of UNITE HERE Local 11.
He added that “their longtime support of living wages, affordable housing, and job creation is a commitment to the idea that Santa Monica is a diverse, inclusive community where people can join the middle class and raise families.”
This is the fifth time that McKeown -- who has won the support of all the major political groups who have so far made endorsements -- has received the union’s backing since he first ran for City Council in 1998.
“Santa Monica’s commitment to economic justice for working families is exemplified by UNITE HERE’s struggle for fair wages and working conditions for the workers in our local hotels and restaurants,” McKeown told the Lookout.
“We in Santa Monica want a hospitality industry we can be proud of, not one carried on the backs of low-wage workers and their children. I’m proud to have stood by our hotel workers since the mid 90s, and welcome their support as we fight on for fairness.”
This is the first endorsement by a major political group for Gruber, who has the backing of Assembly member Richard Bloom and Santa Monica city council members Gleam Davis and Terry O’Day.
“For going on two decades, the brave hotel workers of Santa Monica have been on the front lines working for social and economic justice, and I am both proud and humbled to receive the UNITE HERE Local 11 endorsement,” Gruber told the Lookout.
Nine of the 14 Council candidates sought the union’s endorsement. In addition to McKeown and Gruber, they are Mayor Pam O’Connor, former mayor Mike Feinstein; Planning Commissioners Sue Himmelrich, Jennifer Kennedy and Richard McKinnon; Parks and Recreation Commissioner Phil Brock, and non-profit consultant Nick Boles.
The union’s endorsement process started at the end of July, where candidates were asked to fill out a detailed questionnaire followed by two days of interviews by the endorsement committee comprising of between 20 and 40 hotel workers, according to union organizer Melanie Luthern.
A copy of the union questionnaire obtained by the Lookout shows that the union asked candidates if they are members of a union and how they have participated in supporting union workers.
The union also wanted to know who contributed to candidates’ campaigns, whether they support a number of union-related issues and whether they support certain development projects.
The endorsement comes as no surprise. At last month’s Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) convention the union supported McKeown and Gruber, helping them become the two top vote getters. (“SMRR Fails to Back Santa Monica Council Candidates,” August 4, 2014)
After failing to win the necessary number of votes from the floor for a coveted SMMR endorsement, McKeown gained the group’s backing through its steering committee, which also backed fifth-place finisher Jennifer Kennedy.
The powerful political group seemed to set a trend by endorsing only two candidates in the race for four seats. Like the Hotel Workers Union, the Santa Monica Democratic Club last week only endorsed two candidates – McKeown and Sue Himmerlich.
Two of the City’s other political groups – the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City and the Coalition of Santa Monica City Employees PAC – endorsed three candidates each.
The CSMCE endorsed O’Connor, McKeown and Feinstein, while the Coalition is backing McKeown, Himmelrich and McKinnon.
UNITE HERE Local 11 – which represents workers at Le Meridien Delfina, Loews, Viceroy and the Fairmont Miramar hotels in Santa Monica -- also endorsed incumbents Ralph Mechur, Oscar de la Torre, Laurie Lieberman, and co-chair of SMRR Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein for School Board.
Workers from the DoubleTree Hotel & Suites--a non-union hotel that sits on School District land -- participated in the interviews for the school board. For the past few years, the union has been trying to unionize Doubletree Hotel workers with no success so far.
“After the interviews, I was confident that these candidates had the leadership experience necessary to improve the situation of workers and the District by fixing the ambiguous lease that the District has with the hotel,” said hotel worker and UCLA graduate Joe Silva, referring to a clause in the lease that would let the district collect additional rent from the hotel. (“School Board Looks Into DoubleTree Lease,” May 19, 2014)
UNITE HERE Local 11 also endorsed school board member Ben Allen for State Senate and Todd Flora, Nicole Phillis, and Steve Duron for Rent Control Board.
In addition, the union endorsed incumbents Nancy Greenstein, Louise Jaffe and activist Maria Loya for Santa Monica College Board of Trustee.