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Most union bosses understand their job is a balancing act. They want generous pay and benefits packages for workers, but they know those rewards can only be delivered if the employer stays in business.
In California, we’re seeing something much different. Leaders of the Unite Here union in Los Angeles claim to represent thousands of striking hotel workers. But Unite Here is fighting for a policy that would put its members in physical danger, leave them jobless, and destroy LA’s hotel industry.
Unite Here wants to force all LA hotels to house homeless people next to paying guests. Here’s how the union’s plan would work: Each day at 2 p.m., hotels would report to city hall how many vacant rooms they have. The city would then assign homeless people to any unoccupied rooms, including those located right next to paying customers.
But the homeless people participating in this program would get more than an overnight room. They would get access to all the amenities a property offers, including swimming pools, fitness centers and all public areas.
It is hard to imagine a better way to put hotel workers in danger and destroy LA’s tourism industry. In 2020, nearly 25% of Los Angeles County’s adult homeless population had “severe mental illnesses,” while 27% had a “long-term substance use disorder,” according to Stanford University.
These statistics explain why hotel job losses will be catastrophic if Unite Here succeeds in turning all LA hotels into homeless shelters. Who will want to work or stay at an LA hotel when doing so comes with enormous safety risks?
The physical safety of hotel workers and guests must be our primary concern, and it’s incredible the union would want to place its own members in this volatile situation.
We can easily predict what’s in store for hotel employees and guests because the city has already experimented with putting homeless people in hotels.
In August, the Los Angeles Times wrote about the vandalism, assaults and drugs that followed homeless hotel guests. The city was on the hook for $11.5 million in damages homeless guests caused at just one hotel.
Challenges related to homelessness, such as mental illness and drug dependency, are serious and need to be addressed. But those issues are best left to social workers, medical personnel and other professionals who have been trained to deal with these unique hardships.
Thanks to Unite Here, however, these problems will be left to hotel workers to solve. The union successfully pushed for a ballot initiative that will require LA residents to decide in March whether to turn all LA hotels into homeless shelters. If passed, hotels will be forced to house homeless people next to paying guests without any social services or medical support from the city or elsewhere.
Unite Here leadership seems to be the only source of support for the idea. A recent poll commissioned by the American Hotel & Lodging Association showed that 98% of LA residents see homelessness as a problem, but 86% of those surveyed said they disagreed with prioritizing putting homeless people in hotels.
When the idea was put before the LA City Council in 2022, it was overwhelmingly rejected, and then-Councilman Joe Buscaino, a Democrat, called it “the dumbest measure I’ve seen in my 10-year tenure as a City Council member.”
Unite Here appears to be ignoring complaints from hotel workers about having to work alongside homeless people in hotels. Instead, the union seems to think it has some sort of expertise on the broader societal issue of homelessness, and for some unknown reason is making this a priority over the safety of its own members.
They say the future happens in California. Let’s hope it’s a future in which Unite Here drops its dangerous demand to turn hotels into homeless shelters, in LA or any other city where they might try it.
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