LOS ANGELES – Coming soon to the Los Angeles airwaves: A provocative campaign blasting a city ballot measure that would require hotels to rent vacant rooms to homeless people.
The newly-launched website television ad, dubbed “Hotel Hell,” will be paired with a new television ad that depicts a homeless man panhandling with an ice bucket in a hotel hallway and washing his laundry in a pool. Over jaunty music, a narrator asserts the proposal “would be funny, if it wasn’t so scary.”
It’s the first big salvo by opponents to the proposal championed by Unite Here Local 11, the powerful hospitality union currently embroiled in a contract standoff with Los Angeles and Orange County hotels. The dispute has led to two months of ongoing rolling strikes in the region.
The ballot initiative will go before voters next March, after the Los Angeles City Council voted to place it on the ballot instead of enacting the controversial ordinance. It takes aim at the hotel industry in a number of ways, including requiring that if a new hotel project demolishes or converts existing housing, the developers must build affordable units on or near the new hotel site.
The most controversial part of the measure, however, pertains to hotel vacancies. Hotels would have to report empty rooms to the city’s housing department. The city would then use pre-paid vouchers to place homeless people in those available rooms. Hotels would receive a “fair market rate” from the city for the rooms and would be barred from refusing to admit someone using a voucher.
Such a plan would “turn hotels into homeless shelters,” claims the new ad campaign, which is produced by the Center for Union Facts, a longtime antagonist to organized labor. The commercials are airing Tuesday and Thursday in the Los Angeles market during the “Today” show and “Good Morning America” as part of a larger six-figure campaign against the hotel worker’s union.
Charlyce Bozzello, the group’s communications director, would not say if the effort was backed by hotel developers, who are expected to vigorously oppose the initiative. She noted that as a non-profit group, the center does not disclose its funders and said the “Hotel Hell” campaign was “CUF’s initiative — we’re running this on our end.”
The group timed its campaign launch ahead of Labor Day in order to underscore how the measure could put hotel workers, including those represented by the union, in harm’s way.
“Unions are trying to celebrate their workers and the great things they accomplished. In our opinion, Local 11 has a funny way of showing it,” Bozzello said.
Kurt Petersen, co-president of Unite Here Local 11, denounced CUF as an “anti-worker, anti-union” organization.
“They’re nefarious. No one really knows who funds them,” Petersen said. “It’s a bunch of right-wing psychos who have nothing better to do than make poor people even more poor.”
Petersen was unfazed by the pushback, noting that the union collected more than 126,000 signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot, far more than what was required. He said he was confident voters would support it in March.
“When housing is on the ballot, it wins,” he said.