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Tuesday, Aug 9, 2022
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Union

UNION//mike1st/mark2nd By HOWARD FINE Staff Reporter It’s Thanksgiving eve, the busiest travel day of the year, and LAX is jammed with travelers heading off to see their loved ones. Precautions have been made well in advance to ensure the crowds move smoothly and efficiently through the terminals. All goes well, for awhile. Then it happens: Gridlock, as thousands of exasperated travelers come to a standstill at Terminal 2. It has nothing to do with cancelled flights or bad weather. It’s all due to a labor protest by the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union that has resulted in a security breach. Flights are delayed for up to two hours. Airport police investigate. Travelers fume. Welcome to union disruption, 1998-style and labor leaders are promising similar in-your-face tactics to draw public attention to their agenda. No mere picket lines, today’s protests are akin to guerilla warfare. They are launched with little advance warning, staged for short periods (often just a day), and timed to cause maximum disruption, like the Thanksgiving eve timing of the LAX protest, and the teacher assistants’ strike last week at all nine University of California campuses, just a week before final exams. “The reason why you’re seeing those actions is because employers are treating workers unfairly,” said John Barton, organizing director for the L.A. County Federation of Labor, a new post created by L.A. labor federation chief Miguel Contreras. “We are trying to send a message to elected officials and companies that workers should have the right to organize without coercion, harassment and intimidation. It is not until we organize a majority of firms in L.A. and show employers that we are not going to take whatever they want to dish out to us that these labor actions will disappear.” Labor leaders plan to keep targeting airlines and their contractors at LAX in an effort to unionize workers and institute so-called living wages. They also are planning a new initiative to organize nearly 70,000 home health care workers. That comes on top of ongoing efforts to unionize Catholic Healthcare West and Tenet Healthcare Corp. hospitals. Do these tactics get results? After the LAX protest rally, City Hall sources indicated that L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan would withdraw his opposition to a motion recently approved by the L.A. City Council to amend the city’s living wage ordinance to cover airline contract employees. A Riordan spokeswoman, however, said there was no connection between the protest and the mayor’s position on extending the living wage ordinance to include LAX workers. Other recent high-profile actions include: a four-day fast staged by USC food service and housing workers; a 60-car caravan of hotel workers from Hollywood to the New Otani Hotel downtown; and a joint protest with homeowners groups against Universal Studios Inc.’s proposed expansion project. “We are seeing a lot more one-day labor actions that are designed to get public attention,” said Los Angeles Police Department Lt. Chuck Helm, who heads a unit that monitors labor activity in L.A. “The unions are really taking their plight to the public.” That, union leaders warn, may involve more disruptive events, especially involving efforts to organize service workers. The efforts are fueled, they say, by the fact that Los Angeles is home to the largest population of working poor and some of the widest income disparities in the country. Federal estimates show that 36 percent of all people working in L.A. County earn less than $15,000 a year. “L.A. is a hotbed for this,” said Madeline Janis-Aparicio, director of the Living Wage Coalition. “That’s because the working-poor problem is bigger and worse in L.A. than in other places. We have incredible and unacceptable poverty and income disparities here. The only way this is going to change is to have a strong labor movement.” To do that, local labor leaders are pursuing a three-part agenda: ? Expand the living wage ordinance passed last year by the city of L.A. to all jurisdictions and ultimately raise the minimum wage to at least the “living wage” level of $7.50 an hour with benefits or $8.75 an hour without benefits. ? Steer all construction and related work to unions, especially on those projects that have public dollars invested in them. ? Organize a majority of the county’s 4.3 million workers into unions. Currently, there are fewer than 600,000 union members in L.A. County. Public demonstrations are only one of several tactics that will be used. Efforts have been made to build alliances with religious leaders (several of whom were at the LAX rally), elected officials (particularly Democrats and Latinos) and community groups. And labor leaders intend to put more pressure on various city councils and public-sector boards, similar to the pressure used to convince the City Council to enact the living wage ordinance. In-your-face tactics do carry some risk starting with the possibility of violence. At the least, they result in inconvenience for those trying to get into or out of the demonstration area. While labor leaders often welcome getting their message out to such a captive audience, the methods could also alienate the general public. One labor watcher said that, despite all the protests, the end goal of more union membership is still far off. “With the economy doing as well as it is, the inroads that the unions are making are rather minimal,” said USC workforce professor Gilbert Siegel. “With unemployment rates as low as they are in most areas, individuals have a lot more power to negotiate with their employers. The union appeal would resonate a bit more if the economy turned sour once again.” Union leaders acknowledge that their gains have been modest so far. “We still have a long, long way to go before we see the scale of organizing we want,” Barton said. “If we are successful in these early stages, you will see a lot more organizing going on in this town.”

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