Each election season, LL looks forward to a union-endorsement ritual: the donning of the hard hat. Whether it be Mayor Anthony A. Williams or Ward 1 Councilmember Jim
Graham, LL always gets a chuckle out of seeing a D.C. politico clowning like Bob the Builder in exchange for the mighty labor vote.
After this week’s council session, though, our elected leaders have a less humorous way to show their labor bona fides: the Hotel Development Projects Labor Peace Agreement Act of 2002.
The bill requires hotels that receive more than $1 million in economic investment from the D.C. government to forge peaceful agreements with hotel workers to prevent strikes and other labor unrest. Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, whose ward hosts the most out-of-town travelers and Gideon Bibles, offered his colleagues this helpful hint about the legislation two weeks ago: “There’s nothing being hidden here,” Evans explained. “If you support the concept, then you support the bill. If you don’t support the concept, then you don’t support the bill.”
LL’s even simpler explanation: If labor unions support you—and you want them to support you in the future—then you support the bill.
If labor unions support your opponent, then you don’t support the bill.
The District’s GOP contingent objected that the bill violates federal law by creating an uneven playing field in labor negotiations. In their eyes, the pro-labor law would force hotel management to negotiate with unions that might or might not truly represent hotel workers. “It’s a facial violation of the National Labor Relations Act,” argues At-Large Councilmember David A. Catania, who asserts that the D.C. legislation boils down to a pre-hire agreement, which is restricted under federal labor law. “We are not allowed to privilege one side and burden another.”
“Why don’t we call this what it is?” said his at-large colleague Carol Schwartz Dec. 3. “This is really a unionized hotel workers’ agreement.”
In other words: We’ll never get labor union support in a town that’s 7-to-1 Democrat. We’re Republicans. Screw you.
Ward 5 Democrat Vincent B. Orange Sr. had an even bigger ax to grind with the bill’s supporters: In September’s primary, big labor put its big money behind Orange’s opponent, Harry Thomas Jr. Orange still won with 59 percent of the vote, though.
The bill passed its first reading in the council 10 to 3.
Any pro-union legislation, even a bill to make the Internationale the official D.C. song, starts out with an automatic three-member bloc on the council: Graham, Ward 4 Councilmember Adrian M. Fenty, and At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson. But the Labor Peace Agreement debate featured a surprising cast of supporting actors, starting with the bill’s original sponsor: former Ward 4 Councilmember Charlene Drew Jarvis, who is the outgoing chair of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce.
Chamber networking events usually
don’t take place at the AFL-CIO’s George
Yet on Aug. 3, 2000, Jarvis circulated a memo to her colleagues urging their support for a labor bill. As then-head of the council’s Committee on Economic Development and a friend to many of the city’s deep-pocketed developers, Jarvis had hardly cultivated a Rosie the Riveter image. That summer, though, Jarvis faced a tough re-election challenge from Fenty. Even though she fundraised the dickens out of her downtown buddies, Jarvis realized that she needed labor’s help to combat Fenty’s Woolworth-style retail politics.
To her credit, Jarvis kept her promise to labor even after her defeat by introducing the bill. Council Chair Linda W. Cropp reintroduced it in 2001, and it eventually made its way out of the pro-business Economic Development Committee, now chaired by At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil.
So the hoteliers were going to need something more than terry-cloth bathrobes and free pay-per-view to sway the council.
On Monday, D.C. uberlobbyist David Wilmot power-walked the John A. Wilson Building hallways, along with Holland & Knight attorney Roderic L. Woodson and Hotel Association of Washington, D.C. President Reba Pittman Walker. They came loaded with ammunition: two opinions from Seyfarth Shaw, a well-known anti-union law firm. Seyfarth Shaw echoed Catania’s concerns, arguing that the act is akin to a pre-hire agreement, which dictates that a hotel developer and union set contract terms prior to employees’ being hired. Under federal law, pre-hire agreements are allowed only when it comes to construction. The proposed bill would apply to other hotel workers as well, including restaurant and facilities workers.
To the dismay of the bill’s supporters, D.C. Council General Counsel Charlotte Brookins-Hudson last Friday delivered an opinion siding with the biz crowd. Who is Brookins-Hudson, you may ask? She’s the low-profile staffer who sits alongside Cropp at council sessions and mutters “yes” whenever the chair seeks confirmation on whether a bill is “legally and technically sufficient.” When bill co-sponsor Mendelson went to argue with Brookins-Hudson, he couldn’t even find her office.
Brookins-Hudson’s review of case precedent didn’t sit well with Mendelson—or with another D.C. pol who was lent muscle by Hotel & Restaurant Employees Local 25 and other D.C. unions this fall: Mayor Williams. So, fresh off a summer of excessive lawyering, Williams requested an opinion from his own legal team. On Monday, the Office of the Corporation Counsel disagreed with its colleagues in the D.C. Bar. “The Act is not limited to pre-hire agreements, and, as such, does not create an automatic violation of the NLRA,” wrote Interim Corporation Counsel Arabella W. Teal. “Thus, we think the better view is that the Act is legally sufficient as written.”
With two opposing legal opinions, a full-court press from Wilmot and the hotel sector, and an equal effort from the unions, councilmembers faced a decision: Vote for the measure and remain in the good graces of labor. Vote against and clink glasses with D.C.’s developers.
The bottom line is that councilmembers like to caddy for big business in small and quiet ways. And they like to wear the union label in front of Channel 13.
The final vote was 10 to 3.
* Before D.C. councilmembers vote on any legislation, they usually read the proposed law, deploy staffers to research its pros and cons, weigh opinions from constituents, advocates, and opponents, and contemplate their colleagues’ thoughts on the matter. Then they make an informed decision on the measure.
Oops, LL was just reading our D.C. civics textbook.
In the real world, councilmembers generally go along to get along unless someone important tells them otherwise. This summer, for example, the council unanimously passed the Child Restraint Amendment Act of 2002, which, among other things, requires children under age 8 to sit in a child-safety-seat while traveling in a motor vehicle in D.C. The old law dealt only with kids under age 3.
Evans, apparently, forgot to consult some very important constituents before casting his affirmative vote for the new version: the Evans triplets, 6-year-olds Katherine, John, and Christine.
When Evans informed his children of the change in D.C. law, which meant that the trio had to buckle up in booster seats when heading to school, soccer practice, and Ward 2 meet-and-greets, the Evans kids impugned their father’s judgment. “I brought it to the table, and they vetoed it,” says the elder Evans.
So on Tuesday, backed by his 6-years-and-no-more lobbyists, Evans introduced an emergency amendment that would reduce the child-safety-seat age to a more manageable threshold for young D.C. families—under 6. The amendment would have made the District law consistent with Maryland’s and Virginia’s.
Child-safety advocates argue that raising the age to 8 benefits kids, because youngsters might suffer greater injuries in a crash when strapped in with only a seat belt. Lap belts, for example, might cause additional abdominal injuries because the belt crosses a child’s stomach area rather than her hips, explains Fenty, a father of 2-year-old twins and sponsor of this summer’s legislation.
Next time the Evans triplets get riled up about a bill, they might want to hop in their booster seats and drive down to the Wilson Building to work the hallways themselves: On Tuesday, Evans’ emergency amendment went down 7 to 6—emergency legislation requires nine votes.
Evans quickly conceded defeat: “I’ve got three damn booster seats in my trunk,” he remarked after the vote.
* In his two years on the council, Ward 4’s Fenty has somehow earned the distinction of mayor in waiting. His constituents praise him, and the local media can’t seem to get him out of the camera frame.
And late Tuesday afternoon, Cropp gave Fenty his reward: a box of coal.
In a closed-door council meeting, Cropp decreed that committee chairmanships over the next two years would remain the same—a decision that deprives Fenty of a bully pulpit for his pro-neighborhood policies. In the past, Cropp has appeased her committeeless Democratic colleagues by awarding them subcommittees scavenged from existing committees. This time round, Mendelson received some additional oversight responsibilities and a new name for his subcommittee: the Subcommittee on Public Interest. Fenty got no such consideration. “I’m not so naive to believe that the council chair didn’t have any options,” he told LL Wednesday morning.
The ambitious yet seniority-challenged councilmember had more pointed remarks for the chair on Tuesday: “You need seven votes [to approve the plan],” he challenged Cropp, who responded with a 10-minute sermon. Her main theme: Fight me if you want, but you’ll pay for it. Fenty left the meeting right after, to attend a meeting with his Shepherd Park faithful.
Fenty says he’ll come up with his own realignment scheme, a plan that would in all likelihood create at least one new committee.
Councilmembers have at least three reasons to block the machinations of their Ward 4 colleague:
Reason No. 1: They scoff at Fenty’s earnestness and envy his popularity.
Reason No. 2: A new committee means more meetings, which means more work.
Reason No. 3: A new committee would drain away staff from other councilmembers, who prefer their fiefdoms large.
And none of them want to give up any of their turf. “No one was in favor of breaking up their own committee,” says Cropp with a chuckle.
The newly inaugurated council will vote on committee assignments Jan. 2. “[Cropp’s] recommendations are a step in the wrong direction,” says Fenty. CP
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