On Tuesday, City Hall will debate a new Labor Peace Agreement rule for the City of Santa Monica and while an LPA sounds innocuous, it’s actually a monumentally bad decision that covers all the bases of bad government including being totally unnecessary, creating conflict in a currently peaceful market and hurting the kind of small businesses the City claims to want for its retail environments.

As it stands today, employers are prohibited from impeding their employees’ attempts to join a union but the Council has asked for a discussion on significantly increasing the burden on businesses by requiring all businesses on city property (such as the Promenade, Pier, Airport or along the beach path) to sign a contract with a union to guarantee terms in exchange for a prohibition on strikes. Who will actually be subject to the rules is still to be determined but regardless of the eventual specifics, the concept should be rejected.

By the City’s own admission, there have been zero work stoppages prior to the discussion of the new LPA rules. Zero. The current rules have worked just fine and there’s no evidence they need to be changed. Were the discussion just a solution in search of a problem it would be wasteful but possibly harmless. However, this debate goes far beyond merely redundant and is actively damaging to local businesses. In fact, the only time there’s been a protest of a business at a city-owned property is because the City forced LPA language into the lease negotiations at The Spitfire Grill.

The restaurant is located at the Santa Monica Airport and after City officials inserted an LPA clause into their lease negotiations, the restaurant was targeted by Unite Here Local 11 with several protests. None of the restaurant’s employees had asked the union to be there, there were no complaints from workers about conditions and the restaurant had never had any kind of conflict before. The City-mandated language created the opportunity to protest and the union, already emboldened by their past success manipulating city policy on the Minimum Wage and noise ordinance, seized the opportunity to pressure the business with a protest that drove away customers.

Given the direct evidence that LPA language has created conflict, it’s just farcical for any councilmember to claim with a straight face LPA’s are necessary to prevent conflict.

Forced union provisions can also be preemptively damaging to businesses and the economy.

Two hotels opened at 5th and Colorado last year with ground floor space for restaurants, space that remains empty despite a guaranteed customer base from the guests and proximity to the Expo Line. Local entrepreneurs have looked at the space but declined to move in due in part to a unionization requirement that’s part of the hotel’s development agreement.

The reluctance of local operators highlights the difficulty independent businesses will have meeting these rules and LPA’s are likely to push the city’s economy further toward chain or corporate stores because their economies of scale are better equipped to handle the kind of demands a union might make. At a time when vacancies are spreading throughout the city’s retail hubs and the city is actively searching for solutions to the growing problem, why would the City implement rules that discourage local entrepreneurship?

The “why” of this debate remains a huge question. Local businesses haven’t asked for these rules. The city isn’t beset by protests nor has it lost any revenue from the businesses on city property. It’s possible this mountain grew out of a molehill at the Airport. The city was forced to revise all leases at SMO during its protracted fight with the FAA over control of the site and the subject of LPA implementation at LAX did come up during that process. Maybe this just got out of hand when an informal discussion took on a life of its own. It’s also possible the Union advocated behind the scenes for the item to be added or someone at City Hall wants to strengthen the Union’s already fortress-like position in Santa Monica.

None of the possible origins justify the current position and the available evidence is that the Union gets what it wants in Santa Monica. Hopefully, Tuesday night will be an exception to that rule and City Hall will simply thank staff for their work researching the topic, acknowledge the lack of support for the rules within the community and move on.

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