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Thanks, don't come again

L.A.'s City Council president aligns with a union in urging visitors not to stay at one LAX-area hotel.

March 24, 2007

FIFTEEN HUNDRED past guests of the Hilton Los Angeles Airport hotel recently received a letter from L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti urging them not to come back. The hotel, Garcetti warned, is involved in a protracted labor dispute, and the situation there "has been getting worse every month."

Does anyone else find it odd that a City Council president would try to drive customers away from a local business?

Such letters aren't uncommon. Garcetti didn't come up with the idea for it himself, nor did he mail it to all those prospective visitors. Instead, he wrote it at the behest of Unite Here, a union that represents hospitality workers. Unite Here, which has been trying to unionize Hilton workers, sent copies of the letter to hundreds of groups that have held events there.

The fight between the union and the hotel has been long and bitter. The National Labor Relations Board is investigating complaints that more than 75 workers were illegally suspended or fired for labor-related protests. The union also claims that workers who want to organize have been intimidated and harassed -- an accusation that goes both ways -- and that a majority of the employees support a boycott.

The sentiments of the City Council, which is famously labor friendly, are clear. Council members appeared at rallies in support of the union and have tried to broker a settlement with the hotel. They wrongly extended the city's "living wage" requirement -- a mandate that city contractors pay workers at least $10.64 an hour in wages and benefits -- to a dozen hotels near the airport, including the Hilton. Opponents of the measure have sued, and a Superior Court judge put it on hold pending a hearing in May.

It's one thing for politicians to use their bully pulpit to criticize companies for their employment practices. But reaching out directly to customers in an effort to inflict damage on a company's business seems a step too far. Garcetti's allies argue that this kind of thing is routine for politicians here; council members actively supported the hotel and restaurant workers in their battle seven years ago against the New Otani hotel, for instance. But just because it has happened before doesn't mean it has to happen again.

Garcetti cautioned prospective visitors to stay away from the Hilton "to protect your event," pointing them to Unite Here's meetings and conventions department as one way to find replacement venues. With welcoming letters like that, event organizers may soon start looking for replacement venues in other cities altogether.

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