Local 11 Is California’s Worst Union

Bullhorns in the morning. Scare tactics. Intimidation. In recent years, UNITE HERE Local 11 has emerged as one of the country’s most controversial labor unions.

Primarily representing hotel workers in Southern California, Local 11’s goal is to expand its membership rolls and increase dues revenue—by any means necessary. To that end, the union favors large development projects and mounts raucous organizing campaigns to gain a firmer foothold in the region. Local officials, residents, and even union members have criticized Local 11 for threatening Southern California’s peaceful way of life.

About Local 11

An affiliate of the international UNITE HERE union—which represents 219,000 workers across North America—Local 11 claims it fights for “improved living standards and working conditions.”

In 2021, the union had 17,586 members and 121 agency fee payers, while its assets totaled nearly more than $28 million. Data from the Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) shows that the union’s assets have increased by nearly $20 million since 2010, as its push for membership dues have paid off. However, due to COVID-19, the union’s membership and dues revenue are now at the lowest point in years.

COVID-19 Controversies

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Local 11 repeatedly opposed efforts to re-open California’s hospitality industry – while simultaneously sending its members out of state to knock on doors throughout the 2020 election. At one point, Local 11 even joined onto a petition calling for the board of supervisors to enact “a true lockdown” for an entire month.

During the pandemic, Local 11 raised dues on its out-of-work members, and allegedly pressured unemployed members to still pay dues. Meanwhile, Local 11’s leadership continued to collect generous salaries – sometimes exceeding $120,000 – during COVID-19.

Development Agenda

Local 11 is a staunch advocate for new development projects in Santa Monica, Long Beach, and other cities in Southern California—as long as the jobs are filled by unionized employees.

Because new hotels bring the possibility of unionization and increased dues revenue, Local 11 will go to extreme lengths in its organizing efforts—even to the detriment of visitors and residents. During organizing drives, the union often uses bullhorns at 7 am in the morning, waking up nearby residents.

Local 11 supported developing The Plaza at Santa Monica, which at nearly 130 feet would be the second largest project under the city’s new Downtown Plan, and among the largest developments in the city. According to Santa Monica resident group Residocracy, the development far exceeds existing height limits, set at 76 feet for the eastern half of the project site and at 84 feet for the western half.

The vast majority of Santa Monicans are at odds with Local 11’s development agenda. An extensive survey conducted for the city’s Planning Commission found that 60 percent of Santa Monica residents oppose the expanded height limits the union supports. 

If businesses resist the union’s advances, it will make them pay. Local 11’s list of tactics includes an attempt to block new restaurants from opening inside nonunion hotels, preventing existing restaurants from expanding inside nonunion hotels, denying liquor licenses to nonunion hotel restaurants, and barring nonunion hotels from providing any amenity or service to patrons who aren’t hotel guests.

A History Of Legal Troubles

Local 11 has a long history of legal troubles, including cases fought against its own members.

In 2007, a California judge upheld almost $1 million in damages against Unite Here Local 681 (which merged with Local 11 in 2008) after a jury found that the union discriminated against several of its employees. The discrimination happened under the watch of Ada Briceño, a current co-president of Local 11.

Other lawsuits filed against Local 11 include a former organizer who sued the union and accused it of several illegal actions, including discrimination. Before being fired, the organizer worked for UNITE HERE’s predecessor HERE for more than a decade. Two former Local 11 members also sued the union in California Superior Court, after the union allegedly sabotaged their grievance. In their lawsuit, the former members claimed Local 11 was motivated to sabotage them because they had opted out of paying membership dues towards things like political activities.

Disruptive Tactics

From local residents to its own workers, UNITE HERE Local 11 has agitated countless Californians in recent years. The complaints range from the labor union’s early-morning use of bullhorns to its past attempts to carve out minimum wage exemptions.

After continually using bullhorns at 7 am during a recent Long Beach organizing drive, residents spoke out in unison. One Long Beach resident called the bullhorn use “loud and annoying,” while another denounced them as “ungodly.” One surgical nurse was reportedly unable to get sufficient rest to care for her patients. Others claim business activity is being disrupted. Katherine Kelton, who works at a large Fortune 500 company, had the following to say:

“I host business meetings here on a regular basis. And I’m afraid to have them stay at the Westin. I told my boss that I’m really concerned for having [them] stay at the Westin because I’m afraid that [they] might be attacked with bullhorns. I’m actually to the point of telling the company, ‘Don’t come to Long Beach,’ because you pass them on the street and they have no respect for anybody.”

Cynthia Head, former head of the Anaheim Historical Society, argues that Local 11 also disrupts tourism—and the money it brings to Southern California. In her words:

“UNITE HERE’s tactics negatively impact the vacations of our visitors, whose dollars make our city run. These people consistently shoot themselves in the foot and somehow through the pain have the presence to reload and fire again. When I see them shutting down streets, that makes the community look foolish—and that’s not a way to get the community behind you.”

Tourists have indeed complained about Local 11’s bullhorn use, claiming it “agitate[s hotel] guests.” Some have even admitted that they won’t return to the affected areas because of union protests.

Minimum Wage Controversy

After the Los Angeles City Council voted to raise the minimum wage for hotel workers to $15 an hour in 2014, Local 11 advocated for an exemption from the mandate. In other words, the union argued that its own workers should not earn $15 an hour. As those close to the union admit, it was nothing more than an attempt to make hotels more receptive to unionization. The president of Local 11 put it this way: “It…perhaps will cause them to be less resistant to unionization.”

As you might imagine, union members were not thrilled by their union’s anti-worker advocacy. As Alicia Yale, a Sheraton Universal waitress and Local 11 member, put it: “Why is it more of a benefit to be in a union? The union isn’t really doing anything for us.” Bill Martinez, a Local-11 represented bellhop who pays the $56.50 per month in dues, “now makes less than those doing the same job in non-union workplaces.” Said Martinez: “I just wanted to be treated equal. Don’t exempt us, because we’re the ones paying union dues.”

Other Local 11 members have publicly criticized their union on the condition of anonymity. Why? Because they feared “union intimidation” if their names leaked.