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UNITE HERE Local 11 to Picket LA Gay and Lesbian Center Gala

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Unite Here prev picket HyattThe L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center's 39th Anniversary Gala on Saturday, Nov. 13 would ordinarily be a glee-full event, with Glee TV stars Jane Lynch and Matthew Morrison joining living legends Lily Tomlin and Carol Burnett to laugh, dine and raise money for the non-profit to spend on services for seniors, LGBT homeless youth and people with HIV/AIDS, services even more critical and in jeopardy because of the nation's economic crisis.

But the mood at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel promises to be anything but celebratory - at least initially - because UNITE HERE Local 11 is boycotting all Hyatt hotels and supporters from the LGBT community - apparently including California Assembly Speaker John A. Perez - are joining a picket line outside the event (this photo is of an earlier picket at the Hyatt Regency). Meanwhile, the hotel and the union are continuing negotiations.

SPEAKER PEREZ ISSUED THIS STATEMENT AT 5:30PM WEDNESDAY:

The Labor and LGBT Communities have enjoyed one of the most productive and enduring partnerships in the past several decades, going back to the days of Harvey Milk and the Coors Boycott, and this partnership is keenly illustrated by the fact that most major workplace protections for LGBT workers originated as part of a union contract.

While I have a deep respect and appreciation for all the valuable contributions of the Gay and Lesbian Center of Los Angeles, I cannot cross a picket line of working men and women fighting for a fair contract from the Hyatt Regency. Labor and LGBT groups must stand together because we are both fighting for the same thing: dignity, respect and the opportunity to live the California Dream.

I am disappointed that the Center is in the unfortunate position of patronizing an establishment that is currently refusing to offer a good-faith contract to its workers, but I am confident that this is the exception too, rather than the rule, and that in the future, the Center will recognize the importance of standing with our brothers and sisters in Labor as they have stood with us for decades.

An informal association between the LGBT community and UNITE HERE started two years when LGBTs joined the ongoing union boycott of the Manchester Hyatt in San Diego after it was learned that hotel franchise owner Doug Manchester contributed $125,000 to place Prop 8 on the ballot. Additionally, longtime gay and AIDS activist Cleve Jones works part time for the union, which has marched in several Pride parades (including the May 16 parade in Long Beach) touting the message: "Sleep with the right people."

Center CEO Lorri L. Jean Photo by Danielle Gruen

But this dispute is unlike any other since the LA Gay & Lesbian Center is a union ally and believes that UNITE HERE Local 11 has not denounced other organizations that have held events at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza since the boycott was announced in mid-September.

In a long statement to LGBT POV, Center CEO Lorri L. Jean said she had "investigated every option for moving the event" since finding out about the boycott via email on Oct. 8. She also tried to meet with the head of the union, Tom Walsh, which finally occurred last Friday. Jean wrote:

I reminded him of our predicament: there is no hotel with the availability to accommodate an event of this size. I told him that if we were to cancel the Gala & Auction, the Center would lose hundreds of thousands of dollars, forcing us to scale-back or eliminate services for the most vulnerable and economically disadvantaged members of the LGBT community (including those for homeless LGBT youth).

I offered to educate Center supporters of the Union's ongoing battle with the hotel, to express our solidarity with the union from the stage and other actions in support of the union, but he was unmoved. Since there is no hotel to relocate the fundraiser, the only solution acceptable to him would be for us to cancel it altogether. If not, he indicated the union members would picket our event--even though hotel employees there are not on strike.

I asked Mr. Walsh why Unite Here 11 was only focusing on an LGBT community center and threatening to picket our event, even though--with only one exception--they haven't picketed the more than 300 other events, conferences and meetings that have been held at the Century Plaza since the union's call for a boycott. I said, "Since you chose not to picket those companies and organizations--those that have not been longtime allies like the Center--why picket us?" His response was that the union had to use the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center as an example.

I was incredulous that they would want to make an example of an LGBT services organization that predominantly helps the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people in our community. Why would they focus on us? Why would they want to do anything that would hurt our community? It was incredibly demoralizing, as was learning today that a group of LGBT people--none of whom have contacted the Center to learn what prevents us from moving the event--are asking people to join them for a picket of the Gala & Auction.

Pickets Outside Hyatt Andaz West Hollywood

Leigh Shelton, Communications manager for UNITE HERE Local 11, sees things differently, telling LGBT POV:

As a part of the ongoing dispute with Hyatt, UNITE HERE engages in regular demonstrations outside Los Angeles-area Hyatt hotels, including the Century Plaza. Since the contract expired almost a year ago, workers picket regularly -- not just when they are on strike. Hyatt Century Plaza workers voted overwhelmingly to call for a boycott of their own hotel in September, so whether or not there is a picket line, make no mistake that workers are asking that NO ONE eat, meet, or sleep at the hotel for any reason.

Frequently, community supporters and organizations support workers by joining them on the picket line. We are thrilled that Speaker Perez's office, the Latino Equality Alliance, Courage Campaign, and the Wall/Las Memorias Project will be joining workers on a picket line this Saturday. Their show of support will mean a lot to workers, particularly the LGBTQ workers, who have felt misunderstood and ignored these past few weeks. And just to be totally clear, UNITE HERE never pickets individual customers.

Additionally, Kristen Winn, who does outreach for the union, said she was in the meeting with Jean and Walsh and disputes Jean's statement that the union intended to make an example of the Center. "He didn't say that," Winn told LGBT POV. "But most organizations that have been caught up in our boycott feel they are being singled out. We don't give passes. We ask everyone to honor the boycott."

Shelton and Winn also explained that the Hyatt Regency workers are currently not on strike, though they have used the strike as "an escalation tool" in the past during contract negotiations. Strikes, Winn said, are governed by very strict legal guidelines that do not permit workers from even entering the hotel nor allow hotels to replace the workers. They are very difficult to win and very hard on the workers. Boycotts, on the other hand, are often used "to gain some leverage over really powerful entities" such as multi-billion dollar hotel corporations that are only concerned with their economic bottom line and customer relations. In this instance, the union is using the boycott as leverage to ensure that the cuts the hotel has made during the deep recession are not permanent. And, Winn pointed out, when customers observe an effective boycott and move their events, workers are still hurt because their shifts are cut back and hours lost.

David Horowitz, General Manager for the Hyatt Regency, called the union's boycott "baseless attacks" in a letter to Center CEO Lorri Jean dated Friday, October 8, the same day Jean received the email about the boycott from the union. Horowitz wrote:

The transparent, misguided goals of this campaign are to intimidate the Hyatt into surrendering our employees' right, at non-union properties, to make their own decisions about union representation and at the same time create a contentious bargaining environment. Please note that the Century Plaza has been a union hotel for decades.

To keep recent union rhetoric and theatrics in context, it is important to understand that Hyatt has been participating in union contract negotiations in good faith for nearly a year. During this time, we have been honoring the contracts currently in place. In contrast to the respect we are showing for the negotiation process, union leadership has chosen to stage demonstrations and call for boycotts rather than come to the bargaining table to find solutions to issues important to our associates and our business.

Horowitz disputed that the hotel is trying to "lock in the current recession," as the union contends.

UNITE HERE Outside Hyatt Andaz in WeHo

UNITE HERE Local 11 publicly announced this specific boycott targeting the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza, the Hyatt Andaz West Hollywood and the Hyatt Regency Long Beach on Sept. 15. The timeline on the boycott makes the issue difficult for supporters of both the Center and the union. Equality California moved their August gala from the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza to the Ritz Carlton/JW Marriott after seeing Hyatt hotels on the union's "Do Not Patronize" list. But, said the Center's Public Affairs Officer Jim Key, the Center signed their contract with the Regency Hyatt last November, long before the announced boycott of the Hyatt Regency. Additionally, he said, the Human Rights Campaign held its gala there on March 16 with no issue or dispute.

On Oct. 21, thirteen days after the Center received the Oct. 8 email notification about the boycott, The Wall Las Memorias Project's Richard Zaldivar and the Courage Campaign's Rick Jacobs joined UNITE HERE Local 11 and their LGBT union members in calling on the Center to move their Nov. 13 event.

"As a fine dining server, calling for a boycott of our hotel is not an easy decision, but Hyatt's actions have left us no choice," Max Ortiz, an openly gay Century Plaza restaurant server of nine years, said in a union press release. "Hyatt's cutbacks and layoffs have forced those of us working to do the job of two or three people, while many of my co-workers cannot make ends meet."

Douglas Marmol

"We know the Center has put a lot of effort into making sure the gala is huge success, and we understand that it's a challenge to change venues," said openly gay Douglas Marmol, an LAX food service worker on UNITE HERE Local 11's executive board. "[But] we count on our allies - groups that struggle for fair treatment of the disenfranchised - to trust us, and stand with us, in the fight for equality."

The Latino Equality Alliance - which believes that "the political empowerment of the Latino community itself is rooted in the success of the Labor movement" - also noted in a press release that the hotel workers union "has been a strong ally of the LGBT community and made a sacrificial donation of $100,000 to the No on Prop. 8 campaign when we needed their help. The LGBT community must stand in solidarity with our union brothers and sisters in support of workers' rights and fair wages at every opportunity. We wouldn't expect less from them in our struggle for social justice."

Eddie Martinez, Co-Chair of the Latino Equality Alliance (LEA) and associate director for The Wall- Las Memorias Project, represents LEA in coordinating support for a "visibility rally" at 5 pm outside the Hyatt Regency to protest the Center's decision to not relocate "in spite of various opportunities to do so since the boycott was announced on September 15, 2010." (See their Facebook events page.)

Martinez said in a statement:

The L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, as a 12-year customer of the Hyatt, has a clear opportunity to affect the bargaining power of the hotel union's boycott. Rationalizing the decision to not be inconvenienced is not acceptable in this situation just as a lack of support for LGBT issues by a majority vote is unacceptable to the LGBT community. As a $52 million organization - the largest gay and lesbian center in the world -- it is unfortunate the Center has decided to go forward with its annual Gala without compromise or consideration of the working people of the hotel union and a lack of respect for the Labor movement itself.

Ari Gutierrez, Co-Chair of the Latino Equality Alliance, noted that Latino community leaders established LEA after passage of Prop 8. "A large part of LEA'S LGBT outreach and education work is within the intersection of social justice issues including winning the support of the rank and file membership of labor unions," she said. "The L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center's Vote for Equality canvassing for marriage equality has focused its efforts in the same communities for the same reasons and this is were many union workers live."

Not everyone is supporting the call to boycott the Center's gala, which is the net result of this action. Nakhone Keodara, in his blog SoCalVoice, wrote Wednesday:

The SoCal Voice is condemning the Latino Equality Alliance, under the guise of standing up for worker's rights, for teaming up with the Courage Campaign, The Wall Las Memorias as well as UNITE HERE Local 11, for bullying The L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center to cancel its annual banquet and fundraiser.....

Who needs enemies with allies like the Latino Equality Alliance, the Courage Campaign, The Wall Las Memorias as well as UNITE HERE Local 11. What's clear to us is that these so-called progressives, for their own selfish political expediency it seems, are more then willing to sacrifice our community in an effort to curry favors with the people of color community, specifically the Latino community under the auspices of worker's rights. By throwing the LA Gay and Lesbian Center, and, by extension, the people that it serves--poor LGBT POCs--under the bus, they hope to gain the much coveted Hispanic votes when it comes time to put gay marriage back on the ballot in 2012.

Don't get us wrong, The SoCal Voice supports the rights of workers and gay marriage but questions "the wisdom and ethical approach of these progressives in their political posturing."

The Center's Jim Key told LGBT POV:

This isn't about inconveniencing the Center or our supporters--it's about the lives of the Jim Key 1people who depend on us. The fact is, there is no other hotel with the space to accommodate the event. We, and others, have proposed a variety of compromises to the union. In every case Tom Walsh has either rebuffed or refused to respond to the proposals.

The Center has always been, and will continue to be, a strong ally of Labor and workers. But we cannot, and will not, sacrifice the health and well-being of the LGBT people who depend on us.

There have been more than 300 meetings, events and award shows at the Century Plaza since the union called for the boycott. With the exception of one other event, our fundraiser is the only event the union has chosen to picket. We don't know why they've singled out an LGBT community center, but we do know that canceling this fundraiser would hurt the most needy in our community by forcing us to scale-back or eliminate life-saving services, including homeless youth services, that are not funded by grants.

Key also said that the Center's foremost fundraising event requires space to accommodate over 1,000 people in a ballroom with over 100 tables and a huge space for a mammoth auction, which is also a key component of the fundraiser. He said that only two hotels come close to having the space for an event this scope -the Bonaventure, which has an event booked in the ballroom that day and therefore would prohibit any advance setup, the JW Marriott - which would require splitting the event on two different floors, thereby dooming the success of the auction. "The Marriott's higher event fees, combined with the projected loss of revenue from having to move the auction - means that there would be little money left to fund services," said Key.

Additionally, Alan Acosta, the Center's director of strategic initiatives, wrote in an email to LGBT POV:

If you are a person fighting HIV or a homeless LBGT youth living on the street, the money from this event makes a critical difference in the services we are able to provide. Sometimes that means the difference between life and death. We would be at a loss to explain to our most needy clients why we must end vital health and social services while the hotel's union employees continue to work. We cannot turn our backs on people in such great need. This is a heart-wrenching situation for us.

Jane LynchJane Lynch, Carol Burnett and Lily Tomlin headline the Gala & Auction, where Lynch will be honored with the Rand Schrader Distinguished Achievement Award, presented by Matthew Morrison. Harrah's Entertainment, Inc. will receive the Center's Corporate Vision Award. Tomlin will host the entertainment. Also expected to attend are Glee creator Ryan Murphy, Kathy Griffin, Dave Koz, Perez Hilton, Erin Hamilton, Stephanie Miller
and Julie Brown. Cocktails at 6:00, dinner and program start at 8:00.

The entire statement from Center CEO Lorri Jean:

The L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center is a proud union shop and has always been a strong supporter of the rights of workers and an ally of the unions that represent them. We support fair contracts and decent wages and benefits for all people.

After each year's Anniversary Gala & Auction--one of the Center's biggest fundraising events--we lock in a date at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza for the following year. It wasn't until I received an email message from the union, dated Oct. 8, that we learned the union had called for a boycott of that hotel a few weeks earlier. The same day I received that message, we investigated every option for moving the event. The unfortunate fact is that there was, and still is, no other hotel that can accommodate this event. If there were, we would have moved it.

Since the head of the union first contacted me, I have been asking for an in-person meeting. Last Friday, Tom Walsh finally sat down with me. I reminded him of our predicament: there is no hotel with the availability to accommodate an event of this size. I told him that if we were to cancel the Gala & Auction, the Center would lose hundreds of thousands of dollars, forcing us to scale-back or eliminate services for the most vulnerable and economically disadvantaged members of the LGBT community (including those for homeless LGBT youth).

I offered to educate Center supporters of the Union's ongoing battle with the hotel, to express our solidarity with the union from the stage and other actions in support of the union, but he was unmoved. Since there is no hotel to relocate the fundraiser, the only solution acceptable to him would be for us to cancel it altogether. If not, he indicated the union members would picket our event--even though hotel employees there are not on strike.

I asked Mr. Walsh why Unite Here 11 was only focusing on an LGBT community center and threatening to picket our event, even though--with only one exception--they haven't picketed the more than 300 other events, conferences and meetings that have been held at the Century Plaza since the union's call for a boycott. I said, "Since you chose not to picket those companies and organizations--those that have not been longtime allies like the Center--why picket us?" His response was that the union had to use the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center as an example.

I was incredulous that they would want to make an example of an LGBT services organization that predominantly helps the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people in our community. Why would they focus on us? Why would they want to do anything that would hurt our community? It was incredibly demoralizing, as was learning today that a group of LGBT people--none of whom have contacted the Center to learn what prevents us from moving the event--are asking people to join them for a picket of the Gala & Auction.

On their Facebook page, they say we refuse to move the Gala but fail to mention there is no hotel that can accommodate our event. Then they write: "we demand that our LGBT leaders and financial donors adhere to the plight of the marginalized communities." It's exactly the plight of marginalized people that led us to such a difficult decision. Anyone who steps foot in the Center's Jeffrey Goodman Special Care Clinic, our youth center, or our 24-bed shelter for homeless youth, knows that these programs (like many of our services) primarily care for LGBT people who are low-income, unemployed or homeless, including people living with HIV/AIDS and youth abandoned by their parents.

We continue to hope to find a way to support union workers while not harming the community of people who depend on us; we remain dedicated to both.