A national interest group that criticizes labor unions has set its sights on Unite Here Local 11, the union that represents hotel workers throughout the Southland with thousands of members in Santa Monica.

The well-funded Center for Union Facts (CUF) launched a media campaign this week with a new website, eyeson11.com, which claims “Local 11 is California’s Worst Union.”

“We’re really trying to expose the disconnection between the union’s self-serving agenda and how it’s at odds with the interest of the local residents in the place the union is organizing,” Luka Ladan from the Center for Union Facts told the Daily Press in an interview. “It’s a combination of many different things from the minimum wage issue to their development agenda.”

The Center for Union Facts is an advocacy group founded by lawyer and former lobbyist Richard Berman.  His other non-profit organizations include the Center for Consumer Freedom and the Employment Policies Institute, a fiscally conservative think tank that focuses on employment issues.  CUF, a 501(c)3, is responsible for anti-union advertising across the country that depicts unions as threatening organizations trapping members into paying dues ultimately spent on political issues.

“This is an extreme right-wing organization with a hateful, anti-worker, anti-environment agenda,” said Danielle Wilson, research analyst for Unite Here Local 11.  “An east coast Republican who likens himself to Donald Trump and runs multi-million dollar campaigns against living wage efforts has no place in Santa Monica politics.

The watchdog Charity Navigator has raised moderate concern over the CUF, citing the fact more than half of the charity’s functional expenses were paid to Berman’s own for-profit management company, Berman and Company, to staff and operate day-to-day activities.  In response, the CUF said independent officers and directors review and approve the arrangement and management of the charity.

Ladan says the group has been watching Local 11 for years, arguing the union’s primary goal is increasing membership rolls and, thus, dues revenue. He criticizes Local 11’s support for new hotel development in Long Beach and Santa Monica, specifically The Plaza, a proposed 280 room hotel at 5th and Arizona.  Landon claims the vast majority of Santa Monicans are against projects that exceed local height limits.

“Local 11 supported developing The Plaza at Santa Monica, which at nearly 130 feet would be the second largest project under the city’s new Downtown Plan, and among the largest developments in the city,” the website says. The site references information provided by Residocracy, the anti-development group behind 2016’s controversial Measure LV.

Ladan says the union’s membership has doubled in size since 2006 and now must rely on new developments to continue to build membership rolls.

“The increased membership changes the union in the sense that it gives them more money to pursue broader advocacy efforts,” Ladan said.  “It’s a self-reinforcing cycle.  It sort of snowballs from there.”

Wilson, the analyst for Local 11, denies the union gives widespread support to hotel developments.  She says the number of union hotels in Santa Monica has doubled over the last year.

“We work with our members and the community to promote responsible development that reflects the interests of the people who live and work in Santa Monica,” Wilson said. “Historically, we have opposed more projects than we have supported.”

This is the second public relations attack against the union in two months.  In November, the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce began circulating a petition to reject a proposal to require a Labor Peace Agreement (LPA) in leases at city-owned property at the Santa Monica Airport, the Pier and downtown. Critics say the LPA requirement would give unions the upper hand at the bargaining table.

“This is the first time Local 11 is being held accountable and we’re making it a mission of ours to make sure the people of Santa Monica and beyond know what the union is really up to,” Ladan said.

He says he hopes the new website will become a platform for residents and union members to share their stories about Unite Here.

kate@www.smdp.com

Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press