Writing to your local government is a hallmark of American democracy. But for Unite Here Local 11, it’s also an opportunity to make it appear as though community members support the union’s self-serving agenda. There’s only one problem — those “community members” are none other than Local 11 organizers who conveniently forget to mention their ties to the union.
This tactic is often called “astroturfing” and it’s used to make it look as though a policy has widespread support, when really it’s just being pushed by one group. A new analysis reveals the worst offenders are two active Local 11 members Carly Kirchen and Liliana Hernandez.
Since 2015, Kirchen has been paid more than $250,000 by Local 11 for her work as an organizer. In April 2018, she even registered to lobby the City of Los Angeles on behalf of the union. As for Hernandez, she has been a member of Local 11’s executive board since 2020. Still, the two have repeatedly written to the Los Angeles City Council without disclosing their clear ties to the union.
In March 2020, Kirchen and Hernandez wrote to the Los Angeles Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) committee demanding the committee support workers like themselves in the hospitality industry who have been “hardest hit” by COVID-19. Funny enough, neither mentioned in their submissions that Local 11 fought legislation designed to protect unemployed hotel workers — or the union’s efforts to keep hotels closed and its members out-of-work during the pandemic. They also didn’t mention their ties to the union.
Kirchen and Hernandez have been particularly busy when it comes to fighting short-term rentals like Airbnb, a threat to Local 11’s dues revenue that the union has slammed as “bootleg hotels.” In July 2020, and November 2020 Hernandez wrote to the Los Angeles City Council expressing opposition to short-term rentals. In November 2020, Kirchen and Hernandez both called on a member of the PLUM committee to reject a proposed ordinance making it easier to rent out your own home. Neither mentioned their connection to Local 11. It should come as no surprise that Local 11 not only publicly opposed the ordinance, but also registered to lobby against it.
In December 2020, Hernandez wrote again in opposition to the proposed ordinance, and in March 2021, Hernandez and Kirchen both called on a member of the PLUM committee “to shut down illegal short-term rentals.”
Normally, a well-funded union local with tens of millions in dues revenue would not need to task its own staff and executive board with sending form emails to local officials. Perhaps Local 11 is worried that its influence is waning in Los Angeles — or at least that its agenda isn’t quite as popular as the union would like. Either way, it’s not a good look for Local 11.