CITY HALL — A hotel workers’ union will pull a challenge to a new hotel now that the developer has agreed to allow the union to organize future workers at the site.
The agreement allows Unite Here! Local 11 to sit at the table with the future hotel operator to negotiate benefits, sustainable workloads and a living wage for workers when the hotel is built.
“Without this agreement, the workers could endure years of poverty wages, no benefits, heavy workloads and face termination for speaking out,” wrote Rachel Torres, a research analyst with the union, in a statement. “In a few words, the workers have won respect!”
Unite Here! Local 11 filed a petition for a referendum against the City Council’s April 10 decision to allow owner Alexander Gorby to move forward with plans to build a hotel at 710 Wilshire Blvd. over objections to the wages promised to workers.
Had the group gotten enough signatures on the petition by May 23, the City Council would have had to either pull their support from the project or put the measure before the voters during the election in November.
Now, negotiations will be held between workers and their employers, not before the City Council or at the ballot box.
Normally, voters don’t have the option to dispute a development decision, but this hotel was a special case.
The 285-room hotel slated for the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Seventh Street was governed by a development agreement, a special provision that allows the City Council to make an exception for buildings that are bigger than what’s allowed under the zoning code in exchange for community benefits.
Development agreements, however, are both contracts and laws, which means they can be overturned by a vote of the public if the matter gets on a ballot.
The developer and city planners negotiated the agreement for the hotel and included a living wage provision that originally promised $10.64 or $11.89 per hour depending on whether or not workers also received health benefits. It did not cover workers that receive tips.
Gorby’s offer was one of the first wage guarantees in the city for a non-union hotel, and was opposed by business interests who felt that it set a bad precedent and involved government too much in business affairs.
The union also objected, pushing for a $15 per hour wage for all employees, but Gorby held that he could not afford that high of a wage, particularly with the $11 million he was planning to invest to rehab a historic building included in the site.
City Council members compromised with a $11.29 or $12.54 per hour wage, also excluding tipped workers.
On April 20, Unite Here! filed its petition and began gathering signatures that weekend.
One week later, the developer agreed to give the union a crack at organizing its future employees, representatives confirmed.
The decision was seen by supporters both as a major victory for the workers and a clear sign that the developer’s cries of poverty were inaccurate.
City Councilmember Kevin McKeown, who voted against the compromise wage rate, was pleased with the outcome.
“The lesson for the City Council may be that despite protestations, hotel developers can afford to treat their workers with dignity and fair wages if we make that a priority,” McKeown wrote in an e-mail.