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Sunday, May 22, 2022




Staff Reporter

Less than six months before the opening of Staples Center, a showdown is looming between a union that wants to represent hundreds of employees at the downtown arena and the company that holds the concessions contracts.

The union, Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees, Local 11, claims that officials of Ogden Entertainment Services Inc. and Staples Center LLC are reneging on promises made two years ago to allow the union to organize an estimated 600 concession workers without interference. The union also claims that Ogden and Staples Center officials have yet to agree to pay the new workers at levels specified by the city’s living wage ordinance.

If no agreement is reached by the Oct. 16 opening, union officials plan to stage protests at the arena.

“It makes no sense when you consider that the billionaires behind this project are trying to make a buck off the low-paid workers at the arena,” said Maria Elena Durazo, president of Local 11.

Officials with Ogden would only say that they are continuing to negotiate with the union.

“We expect to have the negotiations complete before opening day,” said Lon Rosenberg, Ogden’s regional manager in Irvine. “Beyond that, we have no comment because we do not intend to negotiate through the media.”

Staples Center officials refused to comment, referring calls to Ogden.

The union wants to represent the estimated 600 concession workers to be hired by opening day representing the largest single block of workers expected at the Staples Center.

Another 400 to 500 workers are expected to be transferred from the Great Western Forum, where the Lakers and Kings play their home games, and Los Angeles Sports Arena, where the Clippers play their home games. (The Lakers, Clippers and Kings will play their home games at Staples Center once the new arena opens.) Virtually all the transferring workers are ushers, janitors and floor changeover crews who are already represented by Service Employees International Union, Local 1877.

Local 1877 Regional Director Dave Stilwell said the union has not encountered any problems to date in its negotiations with Staples Center officials. The only potential stumbling block could be winning the right to organize the 50 to 100 new employees who might be hired by Staples Center to complement the transferring workers’ ranks.

“We expect the negotiations to proceed smoothly,” Stilwell said.

But HERE Local 11 claims that Staples Center and Ogden officials are trying to stonewall their attempts to unionize concession workers.

“Two years ago, the Staples Center developers went to the entire labor movement here in L.A. to get support to get that project approved and get the city subsidy,” Durazo said. “At the time, there was a very clear understanding that they would not oppose labor’s efforts to organize the new employees and that they would adhere to the living wage ordinance.”

Those promises were made in the summer of 1997, Durazo said, several months after the City Council had passed the living wage ordinance.

“But 18 months (after the Staples development deal with the city was signed), Staples has still not agreed to sign any agreement. We are disappointed that Staples is now forcing us to go to allies and supporters to bring this to their attention,” Durazo said. “If they continue this, we’re going to see real problems on opening day.”

HERE Local 11 researcher David Koff noted that TrizecHahn Corp. agreed to allow the union to organize workers being hired at its Hollywood & Highland entertainment/retail complex once it’s completed and also agreed to pay a living wage. That agreement came after several weeks of negotiations last summer, talks that were brokered by Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg.

Durazo said she has met with Staples Center President Tim Leiwicke and other top arena officials, but that little progress has been made.

“They have said verbally that they will agree to this (union organizing effort),” she said. “but every time we propose they sign something, they balk.”

Durazo said she has also talked to Mayor Richard Riordan. “He is concerned about this,” she said. “He believes that workers should have living wages and I believe he’s also concerned about what kind of message this dispute would send to the Democratic National Committee.”

(The committee recently selected Staples Center as the site for the 2000 Democratic National Convention next summer.)

A press aide to Riordan said the mayor would have no comment on the ongoing negotiations involving Staples Center and its contractors; the aide referred calls to Staples Center officials.

As for the living wage ordinance which stipulates that all city contractors must pay their employees on those contracts either $7.39 per hour with benefits or $8.75 an hour without benefits there is still some disagreement about whether it applies to Staples.

Durazo said the union believes the ordinance does apply to Staples Center, because its ownership group is receiving $70 million in city funds.

Goldberg’s Chief of Staff Sharon Delugach said the living wage applies to any project receiving city funds. (Goldberg, a staunch living wage proponent, was traveling in China as part of a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power visit and could not be reached for comment.)

“Based on what we know, the Staples Center and their contractors are obligated by agreement to pay the living wage,” Delugach said. “It’s shameful that they appear to be going back on that agreement.”

But the interpretation of the living wage by HERE Local 11 and Goldberg’s office has not been confirmed by the City Attorney’s Office, which is responsible for enforcing the ordinance. Calls to the office were not returned as of late last week.

Staples Center and Ogden officials had no comment on implementing the living wage ordinance.

Durazo said one of the stumbling blocks to a living wage agreement appears to be McDonald’s Corp., which is slated to operate two concessions at Staples Center.

“They have a history of resisting paying a living wage and sticking only to the minimum wage,” Durazo said.

A spokesman for McDonald’s disputed Durazo’s assertion.

“McDonald’s is not a minimum-wage restaurant,” said Antonio Hernandez, communications manager for McDonald’s Western division in Irvine. “Our average wage is $6.30 an hour, which is well above the minimum wage. We set our wages community by community, based on the dynamics of the local marketplace. We must do this in order to attract quality employees. I am sure that we will do this with the Staples Center project.”

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