Los Angeles-area hotel owners are gearing up for what could be one of the biggest labor battles in recent years as they prepare to counter a bid launched this month to unionize the huge hotels near Los Angeles Airport.
With at least 7,000 hotel rooms at stake, a successful unionizing effort could transform the L.A. city hotel market, turning it into a majority union stronghold and giving unions tremendous leverage in future contract negotiations.
That's the hope of the coalition of labor and community activists led by Unite HERE and the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, which last week staged their first rally to draw attention to their organizing effort.
"It would be a huge jump for us to organize the hotels along Century Boulevard," said Kurt Peterson, organizing director for Unite HERE Local 11. "If that market were to move towards getting workers better wages and benefits, then the whole industry in this region would be moving in that direction."
Currently, about 48 percent of all hotel rooms in the city of Los Angeles are unionized, according to Kent Wong, director of the Labor Center at the University of California Los Angeles. So even getting one or two hotels to agree to go neutral in union elections could push that figure over 50 percent.
Sensing these stakes and the major financial and political resources that Unite HERE is prepared to put into the unionizing effort, hotel owners and operators are preparing to band to-gether in an at-tempt to stop this effort.
"This is a very bad threat looming for the overall hotel in-dustry. Unite HERE wants to unionize as many hotels as they can so that they can shut down the local hospitality industry as a group whenever they don't get what they want," said Marta Fernandez, who leads the labor practice of the hospitality industry group at the law firm of Jeffer Mangels Butler & Marmoro LLP.
"Among the hotel owners I've talked to, they are certainly not going to roll over," Fernandez added. "There will naturally be some banding together among hotel owners to stop this."
Fernandez and industry officials said this effort is closely tied with the other major labor issue confronting local hotel operators this year: a raft of labor contracts coming up for renewal in the second half of the year.
That timing was engineered by Unite HERE last year during their months-long strike at downtown hotels. By having several major contracts expire simultaneously, Unite HERE hopes to put the squeeze on local hotel operators to force them to agree to higher wages and benefits.
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