October 23, 2018

Trouble in Paradise

Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels received the surprising news during Rosh Hashanah morning services at Beth Shir Sholom in Santa Monica. The Rev. Sandra Richards of the Church in Ocean Park stood up in her seat to tell him: The Oct. 1 vote on whether to decertify the union at the Miramar Sheraton Hotel had resulted in a virtual draw.

The tally was surprising because a recent mock vote, organized by pro-union activists, had shown overwhelming support for Local 814 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union.

Now, the union’s fate hangs in the balance, and the rabbi and reverend are worried about a hotel previously regarded as the pride of Santa Monica.

The Miramar Sheraton sits astride a full block on Ocean Avenue, looks west over the Pacific and features lush gardens and a luxurious swimming pool. And, most notably, the Miramar Sheraton has been the only unionized hotel in Santa Monica.

So Comess-Daniels and Richards joined area clergy and civic leaders last month to rally on behalf of employees. They marched into the hotel lobby during a press conference and demanded to speak to someone in charge. They alleged that hotel officials had tried to intimidate workers, most of whom are Latino, into voting “no” for the union.

The demonstrators also decried a poster that hung beside the worker’s time clock; they claimed that it portrayed a union organizer as a Nazi. By late last month, they had scored a small victory: The poster had been removed.

Nevertheless, the tension continued to escalate at the Miramar Sheraton. After the polls at the Oct. 1 decertification election closed, the results were inconclusive. One hundred and six employees voted to continue the union, 114 voted against it, and 17 ballots were contested by one side or the other. Those ballots will determine the results of the election once the National Labor Relations Board completes its investigation, which could take several months.

Union officials are filing an election-violation lawsuit with the NLRB, accusing the hotel of scare tactics. Comess-Daniels, meanwhile, is preparing to take action. He says that he will attend union meetings and sit-ins at the hotel’s upscale Grille restaurant; he will speak about the issue at Shabbat services and make it part of the synagogue’s social-action agenda.

“Judaism compels us to protect the worker,” he says, “so we want to let the hotel workers know we haven’t disappeared just because the election is in contest. We also want hotel management to know we’re watching them and we won’t go away.”

Congregation Kehillat Ma’arav, all the while, has been conducting High Holiday services at the Miramar Sheraton. There was not enough time to change venues even if the union had been ousted, sources say.

But as to whether congregants were aware of tension in the hotel during the Oct. 1 vote, which fell on Erev Rosh Hashanah, remains unknown. Synagogue officials did not return several telephone calls from The Jewish Journal.