In what his aides consider a vivid demonstration of Los Angeles' new ethnic politics, Mayor Tom Bradley has pledged to help a resurgent, mostly Latino, hotel workers' union organize a fast-growing industry that provides thousands of jobs.
Helping such low-paid workers as chambermaids and bellhops win higher wages and better benefits is part of Bradley's latest effort to strengthen himself in the Latino community during a campaign in which he is expected to win a one-sided victory in the April 11 primary.
The union's membership includes many immigrants who have been given legal status during the amnesty process and are becoming citizens--and voters. Thus the union, emphasizing grass-roots participation in union affairs, politics and other matters, is becoming one of the vehicles through which immigrants are entering the mainstream of American life.
Bradley pledged at a union meeting last week to encourage developers and owners of new hotels to sign "neutrality agreements," pledging to keep hands off when union organizers move in to sign up maids, maintenance people and other employees.
"He wanted to make sure these hotels that go up create no difficulties for unions," said Miguel Contreras, assistant trustee of the organization, Local 11 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union, AFL-CIO. "That the unions, the developers and the hotel operators work together so there is a good relationship."
That will win him support in the Latino community, although it could cost him the backing of developers who want to keep costs low to lure hotel chains to their developments. However, the firm building a hotel near the downtown convention center recently signed such an agreement, said Bradley aide Arthur Gastelum.
Bradley made the pledge at a training session for the local's shop stewards last Saturday at USC.
There is much at stake for the 13,000-member local, in which 75% of the membership is Latino.
Frank Santos of the Greater Los Angeles Visitors Convention Bureau said 21 more hotels have been proposed for downtown Los Angeles alone, an area that now has more than 6,000 hotel rooms.
And in the coastal Los Angeles International Airport area, there are more than 14,000 hotel rooms, with more on the way in an area that has the largest concentration of airport-vicinity hotels in the United States.
Contreras, a former United Farm Workers union official and veteran of hotel-worker organizing in Reno and San Francisco, took over leadership of Local 11 when it was in the doldrums 20 months ago.
Activists charged that the leadership was Anglo and out of touch with its Latino membership. As an election dispute rocked the local, the international took it over and Contreras became the leader. Since then, the local signed a contract with the Council of Hotels, representing 14 of the area's most prestigious hotels, with major improvements in wages and benefits.
The big target is the hotels around Los Angeles International, most of which are non-union, Contreras said.
In offering to help this drive, Bradley is aware that nothing in his official job description gives him the authority to help a union organization drive.
But he noted in his talk that he had persuaded the expected builders of a 2,000-room hotel planned across from the downtown convention center to sign a neutrality pact in which they pledge not to interfere with union organizing.
Gastelum said that agreement was signed after union leader Contreras called and said "we need the mayor's support on getting them to sign a neutrality agreement." Gastelum called the builder and said the mayor wanted the agreement.
In that case, the mayor's clout was enhanced, hotel industry experts said, because a hotel across from a big city convention center would be subject to costly union boycotts if it did not have union workers. But the experts said organizing the airport hotels will be more difficult.
Contreras, however, said his union also intends to get Los Angeles City Council members to help. That could be useful to the union because council members have the ability to expedite the many permits needed for hotel construction. The mayor also has such power.
"It is not just what the mayor can do, but what other politicians can do to help us," Contreras said.
For political leaders, an organization such as Local 11, with its growing impact in the Latino community, can be a help on election day. And, while voting and registration is low in the Central City precincts where many of Local 11's members live, it is expected to increase.