Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy: Closing 2007 with Campaigns in Five Industries

December 20, 2007 -- Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy

As 2007 comes to an end, the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy has seen campaigns heat up in five different industries:hospitality, logistics, airline services, grocery, and health care.

Upgrading Hotel Jobs: LAANE continues to help lead a major campaign to improve conditions for 3,500 workers employed at hotels near Los Angeles International Airport. These hotels enjoy the highest occupancy rates in Los Angeles County, yet LAX-area hotel workers earn 20% less than their counterparts in downtown L.A. At an October pilgrimage, students, clergy and housekeepers in wheelchairs marched from Loyola University to Century Boulevard to raise public awareness of the high risk of injuries for room attendants in L.A.’s booming hospitality industry.

“When hotel guests see their rooms nice and clean, they have no idea that the housekeeper who did the work was probably injured,” said Rosa Balam, who worked in the Westin LAX Hotel for 14 years as a housekeeper and fell and suffered a miscarriage in 2005 while lifting an 80-pound bag of linen.

Workers also celebrated a victory at the Sheraton Gateway, which became the first LAX-area hotel to agree to a union contract in October. The contract includes pay increases, improved health care coverage, and hotel participation in a diversity task force, along with community and union leaders. The task force will work to increase outreach to potential job candidates in the African American community and review the application and hiring process at the hotels.

Addressing Safety and Job Standards at LAX: Service workers at LAX are the target of a major campaign to improve working conditions and passenger safety. City officials are moving forward on a policy that would address inadequate standards among the private firms that hire janitors, security workers and other airline passenger service workers at LAX. A vote could come as early as January, according to the executive director of the agency that runs LAX.

The airlines contract out critical services, like wheelchair attendants, baggage handling, aircraft cleaning and passenger security, to the lowest bidder. A LAANE report, released in July, found that the system produced an undertrained, understaffed and poorly compensated workforce and compromised safety, security, sanitation, and services for passengers with disabilities.

Airport Commissioner Fernando Torres-Gil, a polio survivor who uses crutches and a wheelchair, told the press that he would vote for the plan. “The Commission is especially sensitive and appreciative of the wheelchair attendants," Torres-Gil said. "Without them, many people, including myself, could not use the airport."

Fighting for Food Access and Good Grocery Jobs: In response to the announcement that the British retail giant TESCO is expanding to Southern California, a community-led coalition is pressuring the grocer to sign a community benefits agreement as it enters the U.S. market to make real the company’s promise to provide good jobs, operate in an environmentally-sound manner and open stores in underserved areas.

TESCO, the world’s third-largest food retailer, is expanding into the U.S. by opening over 50 “Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Markets” in Southern California by the end of 2008. TESCO has launched an aggressive public relations campaign touting its plans to be a green and community-friendly employer.

But TESCO, which seems to be following the pattern set by the major grocery chains, has for the most part sidestepped South Los Angeles and other areas with a longstanding need for quality grocery stores. News reports have said that the company plans to employ most U.S. workers for up to 20 hours a week in $10 per hour jobs, and the company’s record on consumer, labor and environmental issues in the U.K. and internationally is extremely mixed.

In a major coup, presidential candidates John Edwards and Barack Obama joined with the Alliance for Health and Responsible Grocery Stores in calling for a community benefits agreement.

Building Support for Responsible Hospital Development: A broad coalition of community, business, labor, civil rights and environmental group has been fighting for good jobs and responsible hospital development in the Northeast San Fernando Valley.

Providence Holy Cross Medical Center is planning a $143 million, 136-bed expansion on its current site. The hospital’s owner, Seattle-based Providence Health & Services, is planning to build a 97-foot-high patient tower on a site zoned for a maximum of 45 feet and without the required 25-foot setback from the street.

Community Advocates for Responsible Expansion at Providence Holy Cross (CARE) supports a proposed expansion of the Mission Hills facility, but says that the hospital should be required to complete an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) as well as an air quality study before proceeding.

CARE may turn to the courts after the L.A. City Council in November failed by a two-vote margin to overturn the decision of the city’s planning commission to let the expansion of Holy Cross Medical Center proceed without an environmental study.

Prior to the vote, LAANE released Growing Responsibly, a white paper that highlighted the potential impact the expansion plan would have on neighborhoods already suffering from high rates of asthma and poor employment opportunities.

Labor and Environmental Coalition at the Ports: Meanwhile, at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports is leading an historic campaign to upgrade the jobs of 16,000 truck drivers and address the major diesel pollution problems created by outdated and poorly maintained trucks.In the face of increasing opposition from trucking companies and shippers, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Long Beach mayor Bob Foster reiterated their support for a comprehensive solution to the region’s short-haul trucking plan that addresses both the issue of pollution and jobs at a November press conference.

The vast majority of the more than 16,000 truckers are independent contractors, an arrangement that allows trucking companies to avoid responsibility for Social Security, unemployment and workers’ compensation insurance, as well as the performance of the trucks. Drivers who face low rates of pay, inadequate health benefits and poor working conditions are unable to adequately maintain their rigs.