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VALLEY FOCUS | Universal City

Group Protests Studio's Pay Scale

July 03, 1998|KAREN ROBINSON-JACOBS

More than 200 placard-carrying protesters jammed the sidewalk outside Universal Studios' headquarters Thursday to protest the lack of "living wages" for current Universal employees and the estimated 8,000 expected to be hired in a massive proposed expansion.

Until Thursday, the group organizing the protest, the Coalition for Accountability in the Universal Studios Expansion, had been involved largely in grass-roots organizing, officials said.

The midday protest, which was three months in the planning and included a heavy union presence as well as community organizers, represented the group's first public show of force.

The coalition is pushing for so-called living wages for Universal's permanent work force and prevailing wages for an estimated 13,000 construction workers.

"This is not to embarrass" Universal, said Madeline Janis-Aparicio, executive director of the L.A. Alliance for a New Economy and a spokeswoman for CAUSE. "This is to insert the issue of jobs into the debate. It's to put these issues on the map. It's about getting them to talk about this."

But the talk was one-sided, as a contingent of four coalition representatives, attempting to hand-deliver a letter to Universal officials, was greeted instead by security personnel who promised to get the letter into the right hands.

A Universal official said in a telephone interview that the protest is part of the negotiating strategy of Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union Local 11, which has been in contract talks since February. The union, one of those most visible at the protest, represents about 800 Universal employees.

"We believe this demonstration is not so much about concerned citizens opposed to expansion as it is an attempt by a labor group to leverage their demands under the guise of a zoning issue," said the company representative, who asked not to be named.

The official declined to estimate how many of the 8,000 jobs would pay minimum wage, calling such predictions premature.

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