Union Supporters March, Urging City to Support Labor Union “Peace Agreement” at Site of New Hotel

Jessica Kubel, associate director for the ywca, spoke about theEvan Demma came from Chicago to talk about the HotelEvent organizer Rachel Torres with Melanie LuthernUnion march in support of labor peace agreementIrma Rincon is a unionized worker at the Hilton hotelUnion march in support of labor peace agreementUnion march in support of labor peace agreementUnion march in support of labor peace agreementUnion march in support of labor peace agreementUnion march in support of labor peace agreement

Story and Photography by RACHEL YOUNG

4:44 am | August 25, 2015

More than 50 hotel workers and other activists marched and rallied on the steps of the former YWCA building near Pasadena City Hall on Monday evening to urge the Pasadena City Council to support a “labor peace agreement” to govern that site after it becomes a new hotel.

The famous but now dilapidated YWCA building, designed by renowned architect Julia Morgan, is on track to become part of a planned Kimpton boutique hotel complex, along with a new six-story, 80,000 square foot, 180-guestroom addition to be built just behind it.

Kimpton won an exclusive negotiation agreement from the City in 2013 to rehabilitate the site. That agreement expires in January, 2016 and UNITE HERE Local 11 and its supporters want the City Council to build a labor union agreement into that agreement’s renegotiation then.

Currently the Pasadena Hilton is the only unionized hotel in the City.

A labor peace agreements would ensure that workers and management work together rather than combatively to minimize operational disruption. Labor peace requirements have been approved on city-owned land in Los Angeles, Long Beach and Santa Monica.

According to local attorney Richard McDonald who represents several of the many hotel projects in town including the Kimpton, studies over the years show the union contracts push up the costs of developing a hotel and operating it, upwards of 30 to 40% or more.

If the City Council were to vote in favor of establishing a union at the hotel because it is City property, McDonald said the project would not move forward.

The Kimpton Hotel development would halt, McDonald said, never to resume.

“That wasn’t one of the prerequisites. And I don’t think it’s probably fair to change the deal now,” Mayor Terry Tornek said. “We’ve had some analysis that indicates it would imperil the deal. So I don’t know on what basis we would change the deal at this point.”

Tornek said he thought it would be unfair to “pull the plug and remake the deal” being so close to closing the deal. The hotel has already gone through several city processes and is currently at the design review stage.

As the owner of the property, the City of Pasadena will collect revenues from the hotel lease and the transient occupancy taxes.

Other large cities like New York or Los Angeles sometimes give part of this tax credit back to the hotel builders in order to incentivize the hotel owners to build there. Pasadena historically has not been interested in this option.

In a statement Councilmember Victor Gordo said, “The YWCA represents an important project in a sensitive place in Pasadena. The City should actively encourage the parties to work toward labor peace in order to protect the City’s financial interest in the property.”

In the past Councilmember Steve Madison has also supported unions on this issue, but did not return emails or phone calls for this article.

Many interested groups have delayed the site with “public interests” in mind including the requirements for the height of a building close to City Hall and the historic preservation requirements.

Councilmember Andy Wilson said that although he does understand the need for fair labor requirements, from his historical preservation background he hopes to see the project move forward quickly to get the building back into repair.

“The City has been working hard to bring the historic building back to life. The hotel option has been our best chance so far to bring investment into the civic center that could pay for the renovation,” Pasadena’s Economic Development Manager Eric Duyshart said.

At the rally the clergy and unions called to question the business ethics of Kimpton Hotels, citing the two Kimpton properties in Chicago where the company violated federal labor law according to Chicagobusiness.com.

Evan Demma, a restaurant server at Hotel Burnham, one of the Kimpton Hotels, flew from Chicago for the rally. He said seeing everyone come out “energized him.” The employees at his workplace are currently trying to form a union, but have been repeatedly deterred by the management.

“I was called into my manager’s basement office and told me I was forbidden from even talking to my coworkers about the union,” Demma said. “I love my job, but I have a family also and they come first.”

UNITE HERE Local 11 says it represents more than 20,000 workers employed in hotels, restaurants, airports, sports arenas, and convention centers throughout Southern California. The union currently represents workers at the Pasadena Hilton.

“Community, workers and clergy in Pasadena are standing together to urge the Pasadena City Council to take this opportunity to ensure workers are treated with respect and dignity and to exercise the proprietary interest it has in protecting the city’s revenue stream from this land from being disrupted by labor disputes, by requiring a labor peace agreement for the YWCA project,” Alexandra Weyman from UNITE HERE Local 11 said.

Established in 1905 the YWCA was a safe place for women to enter the working world at the turn of the twentieth century, according to YWCA Associate Director Jessica Kubel.

“The YWCA here in Pasadena has been a progressive force since then,” Kubel said. “It does not come as a surprise then that when we see this fine building that Julia Morgan built, with its history, its memories and its recognition in the community that we want to see whatever develops here to provide a decent livable wage job with fair representation to those that they employ.”

Steve Lambert and Ed Washatka represented Pasadenan’s for a Livable Wage, leveraging the opportunity to connect the need for organized labor behind the minimum wage to begin to address the real issue of justice for the labor force.

“This land is owned by the City, which means this land is owned by the people who live here, people like me. I want good jobs to be here and for money not to be lost because of labor dispute. Pasadena has a chance to make sure that workers are treated with respect and dignity,” Irma Rincon said who is a unionized worker at the Pasadena Hilton.

Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE) also helped lead peaceful songs and prayers during the event.