Daily Press Staff Writer
When they first showed up, the protesters picketed the lunchtime rush.
It was a beautiful Saturday in October in Santa Monica.
Diners having lunch under the shady patio at Spitfire Grill suddenly had their conversations drowned out by a megaphone.
“No justice! No peace!” The small group of protesters from Unite Here Local 11 shouted as they paced back and forth.
“They want us to go away but we say no way!”
Owner John Clarizio was flabbergasted when he looked through the glass doors of his restaurant to see what was happening. He didn’t recognize any of the protesters as one of his 36 employees.
Among the group were elementary school-aged children.
“They (chanted) so loudly that customers started calling the police,” Clarizio said. The restaurant owner says airport security and three officers with the Santa Monica Police Department pulled up outside his restaurant but said the protesters were acting within their rights.
Soon after the cops left, the customers left too.
Clarizio says Unite Here returned three more times since Oct. 7 – twice during lunch and once in the evening.
The restaurateur is one of the first business owners dealing with a new condition for certain airport tenants – a Labor Peace Agreement (LPA) with the local union.
Tonight, the City Council will debate whether restaurants and other food vendors on the Santa Monica Pier and the Third Street Promenade should also have to negotiate with a local union before signing a lease with the City.
Current City leases dictate owners cannot impede workers’ efforts to organize.
In the past, City Council members have said an LPA provision would go a step further to prevent work stoppages that could potentially hurt city revenues. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld a similar provision for restaurants at LAX – saying the City had a right as a landlord to stipulate conditions in their lease contracts.
The City has never experienced a work stoppage on City-owned property, according to a recent report by the City’s director of housing and economic development. The vast majority of tenants potentially impacted by the new rules in Santa Monica are small businesses.
“This a manufactured crisis,” Clarizio said. He says he has had to hire a specialized lawyer to look over his lease and facilitate conversations with the City and Unite Here.
He has met with the City Council and the City Attorney to come to an agreement to keep the Spitfire Grill up and running.
Originally called the Lindaire Coffee Shop in 1954, the restaurant was later named the Kitty Hawk and then Spitfire Grill when Clarizio took over in 1991.
WWII and Douglas Aircraft memorabilia cover the walls and pay homage to the restaurant’s history. Last summer, Clarizio celebrated 25 years at the historic location.
However, after a year of negotiations, Clarizio and Unite Here are at a stalemate. Representatives from Unite Here did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this story.
Clarizio is fighting back because he believes union rules would be the end of his business. Out of nearly forty employees, only six are currently fulltime.
He cobbles together a schedule with his mix of part-time employees and their other jobs, class schedules and personal lives. When business is suddenly slow, he sends waitresses and waiters home.
The Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to the Council in anticipation of tonight’s meeting, urging members to move away from LPAs. The Chamber argues an LPA prerequisite gives the unions unilateral power during negotiations.
Multiple business owners have told the Daily Press they are also worried about a technicality – whether the LPA provision could apply to all restaurants with patio dining since tables and chairs are on the City sidewalk.
“That’s where the rub is really starting to hit,” Clarizio said. “That’s when mainstream people had to start worrying about it. If they’re going to come after me they’re going to come after everybody. They don’t want just one restaurant.
They want all the restaurants.”
The City Council will discuss LPAs tonight during their regularly scheduled meeting. Closed session begins at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall Council Chambers 1685 Main Street Room 213.
Credit: John Clarizio
Unite Here protestors chant outside the Spitfire Grill on Saturday, Oct. 7.
John Clarizio has owned the Spitfire Grill since 1991. He is being forced to negotiate a Labor Peace Agreement with Unite Here before he can renew his lease.