Workers at a government-run homeless housing facility in Central Long Beach are calling on Los Angeles County to find a new operator for the site amid ongoing labor concerns.
The site, 1133 Atlantic Ave., is a former Holiday Inn that LA County bought late last year as part of the state’s Project Homekey initiative, which provided funding for local governments to purchase hotels and convert them into homeless housing.
Workers there have said the facility’s operators, Holliday’s Helping Hands and Advance Nursing Services, didn’t take appropriate health and safety precautions at the height of the coronavirus pandemic — and that management has illegally surveilled their attempts to unionize. The companies, which have the same owners, have denied any wrongdoing.
Employees filed a complaint about the site’s COVID-19 safety protocols with California’s Division Of Occupational Safety & Health earlier this year, which is still pending. UNITE HERE Local 11, meanwhile, filed a complaint on behalf of the workers with the National Labor Relations Board about the alleged interference with union-organizing efforts; that complaint concluded with a settlement agreement late last month.
Taken together, the folks who work at the site say LA County should end its relationship with the operators and instead contract with companies committed to treating their workers better.
Mark Spring, an attorney for Holliday’s Helping Hands and Advance Nursing Services, said both companies have fully complied with the law.
He pointed to an investigation the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services conducted based on the health and safety allegations, which found COVID-19 protocols at the facility were adequate. He also noted that Cal/OSHA conducted an investigation in May and has not issued any citation or followed up with the operators since.
“Holliday Helping Hands believes very strongly that the safety and health of its employees is of paramount importance and concern, particularly during the pandemic,” Spring said in an email. “It is confident that it complied with the applicable training requirements and safety protocols and is prepared to prove so, if necessary.”
Spring also said in a phone interview that the facility’s operators did not violate workers’ right to organize, and that the companies did not admit any fault with the settlement agreement.
“They wouldn’t do anything that violated the National Labor Relations Act,” he said.
“We were comfortable with signing that” settlement agreement, Spring added, “so that we can devote our resources to serving the clients in the area, the homeless community, as opposed to fighting a legal battle.”
While Spring emphasized that the agreement “didn’t contain any statements of conclusion or wrongdoing,” and that his clients wouldn’t have signed it if that were the case, the workers and union seeking to represent them see it differently.
Representatives of UNITE HERE Local 11 said the settlement agreement in and of itself is evidence that the NLRB found merit to the charges. If the agency found no evidence of wrongdoing, union officials said, the board would have dismissed the complaint.
A spokesperson for the NLRB declined to comment on-the-record about the board’s investigation process and whether a settlement agreement could be reached without any evidence to support a complaint’s allegations.
But Christopher Cameron, director of Southwestern Law School’s Labor and Employment Law Concentration, said the NLRB has limited time and resources, so the agency likely wouldn’t direct its energy toward a settlement agreement if there were no evidence to support a complaint.
“I would never say ‘never’ about anything in the law,” Cameron said. “Is it possible the board might settle a case before finding a charge is meritorious? Sure, it’s possible. But in my experience, that’s pretty unusual.
“They probably wouldn’t spend time trying to settle a case,” he added, “if they didn’t think there was some merit to it.”
Specifically, the complaint said multiple members of management attended a virtual organizing meeting without disclosing their identities and that management interrogated a worker about union activities.
Spring declined to say whether those incidents happened.
“Our position is: We didn’t do anything that violated the National Labor Relations Act,” he said. “We have a right to inform our employees about our point-of-view on the union, the unionization, and my clients did that in a manner that complies with the National Labor Relations Act.”
Under the settlement agreement, Holliday’s Helping Hands and Advance Nursing Services must post flyers informing workers of their right to unionize and commit not to ask employees about organizing efforts or to surveil Zoom meetings about unionizing.
UNITE Here Local 11, which is seeking to represent the workers, sees the agreement as proof of wrongdoing.
“Holliday’s Helping Hands, which contracts with LA County, now has the distinction of being the first company to get caught illegally snooping on a union organizing meeting held by its workers on Zoom,” Kurt Petersen, co-president of UNITE Here Local 11, said in a statement. “That’s not something to be proud of.”
Petersen said LA County officials should reassess who operates the facility.
“After this latest outrageous conduct, I would be shocked if the County ever hired the company again to operate its facilities,” he said. “It should be immediately debarred as a County contractor.”
But that seems unlikely.
LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn, whose Fourth District includes the site, said in a statement that she was disappointed to hear the accusations against the operators. But she stopped short of saying the county would cease working with them.
“Running these shelters is a unique service,” Hahn said. “I am disappointed that this contractor violated labor laws.
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“I am grateful that both sides have agreed to move forward and work together,” she added. “We don’t have to choose between serving the homeless and protecting our labor laws and we are going to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
A spokesperson for Hahn declined to comment specifically on whether the supervisor believes LA County should keep its contract with Holliday’s Helping Hands and Advance Nursing Services.
The folks who work at the site, meanwhile, said in recent interviews that if the two companies continue operating the facility, they hope unionizing will at least allow them to improve their working conditions.
“We want to be able to work at a place where we’re treated with dignity and respect,” Maria Isabel Borja, a housekeeper at the site, said in Spanish. “Frankly, right now, I don’t really have faith in the company, and I want the county to step up and do more and allow us to have the union.
“This is what we want,” she added, “and this is what we think deserve.”
Patricia Esparza, another housekeeper at the site, agreed.
“What I hope to accomplish with a union is to just really have a voice,” she said in Spanish, “to have an actual voice in the job, where I’m heard — just an opportunity to really speak up, is what I hope to gain.”