Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Labor Girds For Battle, Just In Case...

So today is D-Day... the day we'll finally find out if the Living Wage hits the ballot, or if a deal gets struck. But labor and progressives have been preparing as though the election were a certainty, and here's what those preparations have looked like:

Last Thursday, LAANE (the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy) held its community strategizing session, to prepare for the (possible) May 15th ballot initiative concerning the Living Wage for hotel workers on Century Blvd. The LA Greens were present (as always), this time represented by Linda Piera-Avila (a super Green who's got a long history of involvement in this fight). Warren Furutani facilitated the meeting, Eric Garcetti was present, and so was the typical murderers row of representatives of progressive L.A., all to hear the game plan.

So what's the game plan?

Well, ASSUMING THIS ELECTION TAKES PLACE, we gotta get 75,000 (+1) voters in Los Angeles to vote "yes" on this initiative. Out of L.A.'s 1.5 million voters, probably only 150,000 are gonna show up for this special election. About 25,000 of those will be union voters, meaning just 50,000 more "yes" votes have to be found in all of Los Angeles.

Doable? Absolutely yes.

The opposition's strategy will be to divide L.A.'s workers, essentially asking, "How come they get a raise and not you?" Note that, within the Chamber of Commerce, the line is a bit different: "Stop the Living Wage on Century Blvd., or else it'll spead across Los Angeles." The only problem is that that's a tricky message to trot out in front of the average L.A. voter: Stop this pay raise, or else next time it may be YOU that get's a raise! Might not work, that. So divide and conquer will be their weapon.

Our response will be to reframe this divide as being between the hotels on one side and the people of L.A. on the other. Lifting these workers out of poverty (or, rather, allowing these workers to lift *themselves* out of poverty) will help make our communities stronger, our streets safer, our schools more effective. It'll be good for all of us. Good for the hotels, good for the workers, good for Los Angeles. Not only is this an effective message, it has the side benefit of being true.

Another strategy the hotels will seize on will be to highlight the unions' involvement in this fight and attempt to take the spotlight off of the actual workers that would benefit from a living wage. In other words, the hotels (and the L.A. Chamber of Commerce) will attempt to depict the living wage fight as UNITE-HERE's little pet project, far removed from the interests of the workers on Century, or of the average Angeleno. Naturally, we're gonna attempt to do the opposite: pushing union faces and voices to the rear of the crowd, and putting volunteer community spokespersons, clergy, and, last but not least, the actual workers to the forefront of this campaign. So if, between now and May, you never actually see anyone on the local news talking about this campaign with a UNITE-HERE button on, it means somebody's doing something right.

Though this fight is local, it's got national implications, as it'd set a national precedent. Thus, it's gonna get national attention. The California Restaurant Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will fight this living wage measure with big money trucked in from corporate kitties nationwide. The workers of Los Angeles can't hope to match the dollars those guys are gonna throw down, nor can they match the reach demonstrated by this city's two major newspapers (both of whom have stated and demonstrated a clear anti-worker bias when it comes to this living wage ordinance).

But the workers do have a huge pool of volunteer manpower from which to draw, and L.A.'s progressives have a rare opportunity to play offense, rather than defense, in the fight to improve the lives of ordinary Angelenos. My gut says, and the polls say likewise, that the workers are gonna win this one, and it won't even be close.

So is it gonna happen? Will the hotel owners decided to waste the taxpayers' money by calling for a special election, instead of simply doing right by their own workers?

We'll find out in, like, 6 hours.

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