It’s been eight months since a group of Unite Here Local 11 members brought a megaphone and signs to the Spitfire Grill at the Santa Monica Airport. That October afternoon, as confused patrons called the cops to complain about the noise, the restaurant’s owner, John Clarizio, looked on in disbelief.
Clarizio is one of the few restaurant owners here who is required to negotiate a peace deal with a union, known as a labor peace agreement or LPA, in order to maintain his lease with the city. He’s also the only tenant who’s ever been picketed by Local 11. To this date, Clarizio and the union, which represents thousands of hotel employees, have been unable to work out a deal.
As of press time, Local 11 has not responded to the Daily Press’ request for comment.
In the months that followed the initial protests, the street outside the Spitfire Grill has been quiet as debate over the potential unionization of Santa Monica restaurants has gone behind closed doors. On Tuesday night, it will be back out in the open, as the City Council decides whether to require LPAs in leases on all City-owned property. Local restaurant owners have called on the Chamber of Commerce and the California Restaurant Association to help them kill the proposal.
The City is the landlord for dozens of businesses on the Pier, at the Airport, the Third Street Promenade and along the beach, collecting about $4.5 million in annual revenue. Champions for an LPA in the Council characterize the idea as a good faith bargaining agreement between restaurant owners and unions to prevent strikes that could impact city revenues.
At the Council’s request, City staff has looked to similar requirements at major airports and school districts used to avoid disruptions where reliable food is a vital service. In advance of the meeting, staff has presented Council with the example of a “default” LPA given to businesses at the San Francisco Airport. Under that agreement, the restaurant must provide any labor organization that asks with a complete list of their employees, their addresses, and phone numbers. In return, the union will not strike, picket or boycott the restaurant. In SFO contracts, the employer agrees to voluntarily recognize the outcome of any “card check” vote to unionize, without a secret ballot.
Critics say the model allows the union to coerce employees to vote to unionize since their ballots are not a secret. Proponents say card checks help level the playing field in an industry where employers have all the power.
“Given the debate over these trade-offs, this report does not attempt to provide detailed objective analysis of the pros and cons of the Card Check procedure other than to note that is has been in place for nearly two decades at SFO – while acknowledging there are significant differences between the concessions at an international airport and those embedded in our community at the Pier, SMO, the Third Street Promenade and the Santa Monica beach,” the report said.
Multiple restaurant owners tell the Daily Press LPAs give unions their foot-in-the-door to organize waiters, hosts, and kitchen staff inside their restaurants, potentially changing the model for mom-and-pop businesses who have been here for decades. Local businesses already comply with Santa Monica’s Minimum Wage Ordinance, which will raise the hourly wage for their workers to $13.25 July 1 and mandate 72 hours of sick leave at all businesses with more than 25 employees.
“We feel it is unnecessary and unfair for the city to target small businesses, owner-operated businesses,” said Jim Christel, who has run Back on the Beach Cafe with his partner and husband, Fred Deni, for thirty years. The husband and husband team are tenants of the city. They worry an LPA would hurt their tradition of hiring local teenagers for their first jobs and change the way they’ve done business for thirty years.
“We have waiters and waitresses who have been here over twenty years. We are a family and the LPA or the union coming in could change that dynamic and create a more corporate type of feeling,” Deni said. “It would create a barrier in the relationship with our staff.”
Without a history of work stoppages in the city caused by strikes, some have become suspicious of the intention behind the LPA agreement. City leases already contain a provision that prohibits interfering with a worker’s right to unionize.
“Consistent with its past practices, Local 11 is using its sway with the City Council to advance legislation that benefits its own bottom line,” said Luka Ladan, a spokesman for the Center for Union Facts, a conservative think tank that has lately taken aim at the local hotel workers’ union. “It’s widely acknowledged that the ‘problem’ an LPA is supposed to solve is not, in fact, a problem in Santa Monica.”
The City Council will meet Tuesday, June 26 inside Council Chambers at 1685 Main Street, and will discuss public items no earlier than 6:30 p.m.