How can Dems sleep after choosing anti-union hotel? by Robert Scheer
LOS ANGELES (August 4) -- The Democrats can never get their act together. This Friday at 10:30 a.m. more than 30 top Dems led by U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman will hold a protest rally in front of Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel calling on the management to "not interfere with Loews workers exercising their right to organize a union." But a week later, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will be using that same Loews hotel as its base of operations throughout the convention. Waxman and every other Democratic congressperson will have to go there, or send a staff member, to pick up credentials. Why is the congressional leadership being headquartered for the party's convention at the very hotel that is involved in a heated battle to thwart labor union organizing efforts? Are they pro labor or not? Is this because Loews CEO Jonathan Tisch is a big contributor to the Democrats and a big backer of Al Gore? One of the recent issues at the Loews was whether housekeepers should get paid an extra buck for making up rollaway beds. If Tisch has got so much money to throw at the Dems, couldn't he be more generous with the staff that makes his wealth possible? What does Gore think about paying extra for making up rollaway beds? What does he think about his buddy owning a hotel that, according to the statement by Waxman's group, is hostile to the effort to organize a union: "We strongly oppose the tactics allegedly used by Loews's management, including threats, interrogation, and surveillance, which have undermined the Loews workers' right to organize a union." The statement was signed by a who's who list of Democrats from the California Legislature including Sens. Richard Alarcon, Tom Hayden and Hilda Solis, and Assembly members Sheila Kuehl, Wally Knox and Antonio Villaraigosa. Support for the Loews workers also has come from the Santa Monica City Council, Mayor Ken Genser and many L.A. City Council members including Cindy Miscikowski, Mike Feuer and Jackie Goldberg. Not a good group for Al Gore to ignore if he wants to build enthusiasm for his ticket. I tried getting a response out of the Gore campaign, but to no avail. However, on May 25, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution carried an article about the contradiction between Gore's supposedly pro-union stance and the fact that his friend Tisch, also one of his biggest fund-raisers, is undergoing a big labor battle at his Santa Monica Loews hotel. Gore spokesman Chris Lehane told the Atlanta paper that the veep "supports giving workers the tools they need to organize," and tries to stay at union hotels when possible. Lehane added: "About Tisch, he's obviously a friend and supporter and we have great respect for him. But the vice president has a policy of not involving himself in the private business of his supporters." Hey, give me a break. Does he really expect us to believe that the fat cats never let their business needs be known to the pols they support? And Tisch is not just another donor, but rather, was the vice chairman of Gore's 1993 inaugural committee and even made a personal $35,000 contribution to improve the vice president's residence in the capital. He can afford it, being an heir to the $21.5 billion Tisch empire. That empire, the Atlanta paper reports, includes Lorillard Tobacco, which manufactures Kent, Newport and True cigarettes. The union of Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (HERE) that is attempting to organize at Loews also strongly supports the Gore candidacy but called on Gore to back the workers, and on Tisch to come to terms with the union. In a statement issued Wednesday, HERE organizing director Kurt Petersen said: "We support the workers, and we support the Democrats. By retaliating against the workers, Loews has created a predicament for Democrats. Anyone staying at Loewsnot just during the convention should expect to encounter large-scale demonstrations, picket lines, and other signs of an active labor dispute. We're not asking the Democrats to boycott Loews. Instead, we've invited them to support Loews' workers by joining them in actions at the hotel throughout the convention." Hotel union organizers tell me they tried to get the Dems to use only union hotels but were told that there are not enough of them. The Fairmont Miramar is the only unionized hotel in Santa Monica, and one wonders why the congressional Democrats couldn't have made that hotel their headquarters. Or if hotel space is in short supply, why not use a union hall or a community facility for the congressional committee headquarters? Maybe the folks organizing the convention haven't yet figured out that the beaches of Santa Monica are about as far as one can get, in every meaningful way, from the Staples Center. Maybe they should have had their convention in New York or Philadelphia, where there are enough unionized hotels. What irony that more Republican delegates are likely staying at unionized hotels than the Democrats, one-third of whose delegates are union members. At the moment, the hotel workers union is not asking for a boycott of nonunion hotels except for the New Otani downtown. But there will be all sorts of informational protest actions at Loews, so in the very least it will be interesting to see if the congressional Democrats join the unionists or simply brush past them in their haste to court the fat cats staying at the hotel.
Robert Scheer is a Los Angeles Times contributing editor.