October 20, 2018

Heartbreak Hotel?

Left, an anti-union poster evoking Nazism that upset labor andJewish communal leaders, such as Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels (above)who spoke at a pro-union press conference at the hotel. Also picturedis state Sen. Tom Hayden, just left of the podium.

The Miramar Sheraton Hotel is one of the jewels of Santa Monica.It sits astride a full block on Ocean Avenue and looks west, over thePalisades and the blue Pacific. Inside, there are lush gardens, aluxurious swimming pool and tanned guests who look as if they areemblems of Southern California.

The hotel is where President Clinton has often stayed duringvisits to Los Angeles.

And the Miramar Sheraton is the only Santa Monica hotel that isunionized.

But, alas, Eden is beginning to falter: Hotel officials recentlyentered into conflict with Local 814 of the Hotel Employees andRestaurant Employees Union. According to some, they have attempted tointimidate workers, most of whom are Latino, into voting “no” for theunion in an upcoming decertification election.

One of the hotel’s tactics has set off alarm bells not only amongunion representatives but among leaders of the Jewish community.

Last week, according to critics, a 3-by-4-foot color posterdepicting a union organizer as a Nazi was posted beside the employeetime clock. The cartoon figure had military garb, a Hitlerianmustache, black riding boots, a union armband and pockets stuffedwith greenbacks. The character is pointing to a blackboard upon whichthere are slogans in Spanish, such as “Pay dues to the union.”

The hotel representatives, of course, see no connection betweenthe figure and the Nazis, let alone Hitler.

Not so, say several Jewish and Santa Monica civic leaders. Lastweek, a group of them angrily marched into the hotel and across theexpanse of marble floor, stood in front of the reception desk. Theydemanded to speak to someone in charge. Among the demonstrators wereRabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Sholom; Rabbi Jeffrey Marx ofSha’arei Am: The Santa Monica Synagogue; Rick Chertoff of the JewishLabor Committee; Richard Bloom of Friends of Sunset Park; SantaMonica City Councilmember Michael Feinstein; peace activist JerryRubin; and a dozen others.

The somewhat befuddled young woman behind the reception desk onlysmiled nervously and said that she didn’t know anything about theissue. An impeccably coifed young man then sternly stated that thevisitors were impeding his guests and that they would have to move.Finally, two policemen arrived but were soon satisfied that thevisitors were peaceful.

The demonstrators then carried on a press conference in the humiddrizzle outside the hotel, making indignant statements to the media.

The confrontation didn’t seem to shake Comess-Daniels, who spokeof the biblical mandate to protect the worker.

Marx said that the poster trivialized the Holocaust and flew inthe face of the Jewish history of union organizing.

The poster “surpasses the normal sleaze we see associated withthese kinds of campaigns,” Feinstein said. “I am offended as a humanbeing and as a Jew.”

In a written statement, hotel officials denied the charges ofintimidation and refuted the claim that the cartoon figure was meantto resemble a Nazi. They called that allegation “ridiculous,offensive [and] untrue.”

“However, for anyone in the community who found this imageoffensive, we apologize,” the statement says.

The Journal was unable to reach hotel general manager BillWorcester, but he told the Los Angeles Times, “The real issue is, doour employees want to continue to be represented by Local 814?”

For Gail Escobar, who is Jewish and a waitress at the hotel’supscale Grille restaurant, the answer is an emphatic “yes.”

Escobar, 35, who grew up in Santa Monica, said that she was hiredby the hotel two years ago, when she needed more income to supporther 5-year-old son, Kevin. She was drawn to the Miramar Sheratonbecause the union ensured her full health benefits, which recentlyproved crucial when her husband required major eye surgery.

Escobar joined the union’s organizing committee this past springto help workers keep their benefits and a bargaining voice. But shesaid that she has been unnerved by the tense, mandatory anti-unionmeetings she has had to attend with the other employees. (Worcestertold the Times that the meetings were “informational only.”)

“If we lose the union, I’m almost 100 percent sure they’ll fireme,” the waitress said. “I’ve been way too vocal.”

But Escobar and the other employees at least enjoyed one coup lastweek. After the rabbis’ press conference, the hotel took down theegregious poster.

The union vote took place on Oct. 1, after The Journal went topress this week. Also as The Journal went to press, CongregationKehillat Ma’arav was planning to go ahead with its High Holidayservices at the Miramar Sheraton. There was not enough time to changevenues, a source said.