A two-year war of attrition over potential Labor Peace Agreements on city-owned property ended Tuesday, with the City Council abandoning the idea amid outcry from local restaurant owners.
After directing staff to explore potential models for mandating a no-strike agreement with a union in leases on the Pier, the beach and at the airport, the majority of the Council said the idea was too fraught with potential legal and economic challenges.
“As I’ve delved into it further and further, I’ve come to the conclusion that the community’s interest and labor’s interest have diverged from one another,” Mayor Ted Winterer said, who initially asked for staff to look into LPAs. “I think that we have already imposed a lot of requirements on our small businesses.”
City leases already stipulate owners can not impede workers’ efforts to organize. The City has about 27 restaurant tenants who pay about $4.5 million a year in leases.
The union most likely to benefit from an LPA requirement, Unite Here Local 11, remained mostly silent on the issue. An LPA usually requires a business to make some concessions in exchange for a no-strike pledge, for example, requiring owners to hand over names and contact information for workers or agreeing to a card-check vote without a secret ballot. Unite Here represents thousands of hotel workers in Santa Monica.
Local mom and pop restaurants argued an LPA would give unions a foothold in their businesses. The Chamber of Commerce and California Restaurant Association began an onslaught in November, gathering about 800 petition signatures, sending out direct mailers and flooding the Council inbox with opposition letters.
“We’ve had a tremendously difficult time in battling this issue for the last year and a half, it’s a severe threat to the viability of our business,” said Richard Chacker, the owner of Perry’s Cafe & Rentals, who appeared on the mailers. “Just by sheer default we’re going to end up with larger corporate interests.”
Councilmembers were persuaded by the argument corporate chains would be better equipped to handle the legal burden associated with negotiating an LPA and potential union requirements.
“If there’s a risk this would tip us more toward chain operations, I think that’s also of grave concern to me,” said Mayor Pro-Tempore Gleam Davis.
Santa Monica would not be the only city to face backlash over LPAs, if the Council had decided to include a requirement. The Airline Service Providers Association has appealed a decision upholding LPA requirements at LAX to the Supreme Court. Councilmember Sue Himmelrich said the lawsuit there could open the door for legal challenges here.
“I’m uncomfortable with the whole setting we’re in because we can’t just pretend we’re going to say you have to have a Labor Peace Agreement and not know what the consequences are,” Himmelrich said. “The thing that really bothers me most is that we already have litigation in the city, some big litigation, and I think this would be more litigation.”
In the end, Mayor Winterer asked staff to look at other policies that could give workers more protections.