A new effort by a national organization is taking aim at a union representing hotel, restaurant and convention center workers in Orange County. The Center For Union Facts (CUF) focuses it attention on Unite Here Local 11 with the launch of eyeson11.com, a website that deems it the “most controversial” and “worst” union in California. Luka Ladan, a spokesman for the campaign, penned a recent op-ed in Los Angeles Daily News calling Local 11 “self-serving” in Anaheim and elsewhere.
What backs up such heavy-handed claims? The campaign says Local 11, which represents 23,000 workers across Southern California and Arizona, cares more about pushing controversial development projects that allow it to expand membership dues than anything else. The watchdog website also solicits confidential testimonies from aggrieved workers and residents near proposed development project sites to drive its point home.
“The Center for Union Facts has had its eyes on Local 11 for awhile now,” says Ladan. “Our goal here is to expose Local 11 for what we believe to be a self-serving development agenda and for many of its disruptive tactics that the union has used repeatedly to enact that agenda.”
But the union sees something else at play in putting its activities under the microscope. “This is an extreme right-wing organization with a hateful anti-worker, anti-environment agenda,” says Danielle Wilson, a research analyst for Unite Here Local 11. The punch is definitely coming from the right. The Center for Union Facts is a project founded by Richard Berman, a right-wing public relations executive and former lobbyist. His other anti-union offshoots includes “Labor Pains,” a website that targets the Coalition for Immokalee Workers who organized a successful boycott against Taco Bell with protests outside its Irvine headquarters in 2005 to win a penny-per-pound pact on tomatoes.
“They’re desperately trying to distract the public from the information that we’re exposing,” says Ladan in response to Local 11. In his op-ed, he criticized the union for leading the fight for a referendum vote later this year against two luxury hotel development agreements in the Anaheim Resort. Trade unions negotiated a Project Labor Agreement for both of them, but service workers that will fill the permanent jobs got left behind. Ladan even dug up an old quote without attribution from a 2010 Weekly cover story on Local 11’s hotel worker fight against Disney where longtime Anaheim conservative activist Cynthia Ward (not Cynthia Head) criticized the union’s on-the-street activism for disrupting tourism. (Ward’s since became a harsher critic of Anaheim’s resort elite).
“What I was trying to convey in that op-ed was the Local 11’s agenda when it comes to development is self-interested and may actually conflict with the public sentiment of many people,” says Ladan, who’s also communications director for Berman and Company. He points back to the new website for a chart showing the union’s membership and assets growing over the past decade. “In regards to development, we work with our members and the community to promote responsible development that reflects the interests of the people who live and work in Anaheim,” Wilson says in response.
Ladan offered Los Angeles Daily News readers a scenario where Southern California becomes South Beach with Local 11 to blame. But with regards to hoteliers themselves, he had no comment about them.
“Our focus, with this campaign, is specifically focused on Local 11,” says Ladan.