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Hotel strike nears end as union reaches more tentative deals with holdouts

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Hotel strike nears end as union reaches more tentative deals with holdouts

The almost 10-month-old strike that initially involved roughly 60 hotels and more than 15,000 workers in Los Angeles and Orange counties is nearing its end.

In late April, the powerful hospitality union Unite Here Local 11 announced it had reached tentative contract agreements with 12 Southern California hotels. And on Friday, Unite Here Local 11 officials said the union had negotiated agreements with six more local hotels in recent days.

So far, nearly three dozen other hotels have struck deals with workers over the course of on-and-off strikes that began in July. The new contracts awarded higher pay and other benefits to thousands of housekeepers, cooks, dishwashers, servers and front desk workers.

“Hotels are falling in line,” Unite Here Local 11 co-president Kurt Petersen said. “We’re winning more the longer this goes on.”

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Stephanie Peterson, a spokesperson for Aimbridge Hospitality, which operates six area hotels that recently settled, said in a statement: “We are pleased to have reached an agreement with the Union that puts our people first, and we are taking the immediate steps to begin issuing the backpay our associates have been waiting for.”

The new contracts include an almost immediate raise of $5 per hour for workers who don’t typically earn tips, including front desk clerks, dishwashers and housekeepers. Those workers will see a total hourly wage boost of $10 over the course of the contract that expires in January 2028.

Hotel Figueroa, LA Grand and Glendale Hilton are among nine hotels whose owners remain in contract negotiations with the union.

A point of contention had been the practice of some hotels recruiting recent migrants living in a Skid Row shelter to replace striking employees.

In a compromise, four hotels agreed to give the migrant workers priority in hiring for permanent positions. The hotels include the Le Meridien Delfina Santa Monica, the Four Points by Sheraton, the Holiday Inn LAX and the Pasadena Hilton.

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“This is a testament to the idea of no workers left behind,” Petersen said. “Our members saw workers exploited and had a sense of solidarity. The bosses’ plan to divide people didn’t work.”

As part of the union’s agreement with Sheraton Park Anaheim, workers who had raised allegations of sexual harassment and were banned from the property will be brought back to work.

Fairfield Inn & Suites and Aloft hotels in El Segundo, which are owned by a real estate affiliate of the Blackstone Group, also approved deals with the union.

Blackstone Group spokesman Jeffrey Kauth said, “The agreement substantially increases wages and benefits over the term of the contract and provides a framework to recognize a broader number of employees who will benefit from these increases. We are proud to continue our positive working relationship with the union.”

During months of strikes, tensions have spiked on picket lines at various hotels and have continued at some locations even after deals are struck.

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Outside the Hilton Pasadena, a worker and two union members who were picketing were issued noise citations by local police and are facing criminal charges for using handheld bullhorns.

The union as well as advocates with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California sharply criticized the city for pursuing the charges at a Monday city council meeting.

Peter J. Eliasberg, chief counsel at the ACLU of Southern California, sent a letter May 15 to Pasadena’s City Council members, chief of police and city attorney urging the city to drop the charges, saying they “very likely violate the First Amendment and Liberty of Speech Clause of the California Constitution.”

Video footage captured by the union’s general counsel Jeremy Blasi, and reviewed by The Times, shows two police officers recording decibel measurements of several picketers on a public sidewalk a few feet away.

“The City supports the free speech rights of protesters and does not take sides in disputes, but must balance the rights of those protesting with those nearby residents and businesses impacted by protest activities,” said Lisa Derderian, a spokesperson for the city of Pasadena, in an emailed statement.

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Pasadena Mayor Victor Gordo said the city planned to review issues raised by the ordinance, but said he couldn’t comment on the claims.

Long Beach Mayor Rex Richardson called the deal a “historic contract agreement that ensures hospitality workers will have the dignity of living wages and industry-leading benefits to support their families,” according to a Unite Here Local 11 news release in April.

“Over the next four years, as we prepare for the 2028 Olympics and welcome visitors from around the world to our vibrant Long Beach community, we can be proud that our local tourism economy continues to thrive, while placing value on the workforce that keeps our hospitality industry running,” Richardson said.

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After a pandemic strike, nurses union must pay Riverside hospital millions in damages

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After a pandemic strike, nurses union must pay Riverside hospital millions in damages

The union representing nurses at Riverside Community Hospital has been ordered to pay more than $6 million to the hospital for the fallout from a 2020 strike.

The unusual financial penalty was imposed by an arbitrator who found the 10-day work stoppage during the pandemic violated the terms of the labor agreement signed by HCA Healthcare, which operates the hospital, and Service Employees International Union Local 121RN. The $6.26-million fine, the arbitrator determined, was necessary to compensate the hospital for the cost of replacing workers who walked off the job during the strike, according to a statement released Wednesday.

Nurses walked off the job in June 2020 in an effort to force the hospital to increase staffing and improve safety as COVID-19 infections surged, the union said at the time. But hospital officials argued that because nurses also voiced complaints about shortages of personal protective equipment, the reasons for the strike were too expansive to be allowed under the collective bargaining agreement the two sides had signed.

“Our contract was clear, and the union showed reckless disregard for its members and the Riverside community by calling the strike,” said Jackie Van Blaricum, president of HCA Healthcare’s Far West Division, who was the hospital’s chief executive during the strike. “We applaud the arbitrator’s decision.”

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SEIU 121RN Executive Director Rosanna Mendez objected to the arbitrator’s findings, saying nurses were permitted under their contract to go on strike. She called the arbitrator’s decision “absurd and outrageous.”

“It is absolutely shocking that an arbitrator would expect nurses to not talk about safety issues,” Mendez said, adding that the union was exploring its options to contest the arbitrator’s decision.

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Supreme Court rejects California man's attempt to trademark Trump T-shirts

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Supreme Court rejects California man's attempt to trademark Trump T-shirts

The Supreme Court on Thursday turned down a California attorney’s bid to trademark the phrase “Trump Too Small” for his exclusive use on T-shirts.

The justices said trademark law forbids the use of a living person’s name, including former President Trump.

The vote was 9-0.

Trump was not a party to the case of Vidal vs. Elster, but in the past he objected when businesses and others tried to make use of his name.

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Concord, Calif., attorney Steve Elster said he was amused in 2016 when Republican presidential candidates exchanged comments about the size of Trump’s hands during a debate. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, whom Trump had mocked as “Little Marco,” asked Trump to hold up his hands, which he did. “You know what they say about guys with small hands,” Rubio said.

After Trump won the election, Elster decided to sell T-shirts with the phrase “Trump Too Small,” which he said was meant to criticize Trump’s lack of accomplishments on civil rights, the environment and other issues.

Legally he was free to do so, but the U.S. Patent and Copyright Office denied his request to trademark the phrase for his exclusive use.

When he appealed the denial, he won a ruling from a federal appeals court which said his “Trump Too Small” slogan was political commentary protected by the 1st Amendment.

The Biden administration’s Solicitor Gen. Elizabeth Prelogar appealed and urged the Supreme Court to reject the trademark request.

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She acknowledged that Elster had a free-speech right to mock the former president, but argued he did not have the right to “assert property rights in another person’s name.”

“For more than 75 years, Congress has directed the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to refuse the registration of trademarks that use the name of a particular living individual without his written consent,” she said.

Writing for the court, Justice Clarence Thomas said Thursday: “Elster contends that this prohibition violates his 1st Amendment right to free speech. We hold that it does not,”

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Elon Musk blasts Apple's OpenAI deal over alleged privacy issues. Does he have a point?

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Elon Musk blasts Apple's OpenAI deal over alleged privacy issues. Does he have a point?

When Apple holds its annual Worldwide Developers Conference, its software announcements typically elicit cheers and excitement from tech enthusiasts.

But there was one notable exception this year — Elon Musk.

The Tesla and SpaceX chief executive threatened to ban all Apple devices from his companies, alleging a new partnership between Apple and Microsoft-backed startup OpenAI could pose security risks. As part of its new operating system update, Apple said users who ask Siri a question could opt in for Siri to pull additional information from ChatGPT.

“Apple has no clue what’s actually going on once they hand your data over to OpenAI,” Musk wrote on X. “They’re selling you down the river.”

The partnership allows Siri to ask iPhone, Mac and iPad users if the digital assistant can surface answers from OpenAI’s ChatGPT to help address a question. The new feature, which will be available on certain Apple devices, is part of the company’s operating system update due later this year.

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“If Apple integrates OpenAI at the OS level, then Apple devices will be banned at my companies,” Musk wrote on X. “That is an unacceptable security violation.”

Representatives for Musk and Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

In a keynote presentation at its developers conference on Monday, Apple said ChatGPT would be free for iPhone, Mac and iPad users. Under the partnership, Apple device users would not need to set up a ChatGPT account to use it with Siri.

“Privacy protections are built in for users who access ChatGPT — their IP addresses are obscured, and OpenAI won’t store requests,” Apple said on its website. “ChatGPT’s data-use policies apply for users who choose to connect their account.”

Many of Apple’s AI models and features, which the company collectively calls “Apple Intelligence,” run on the device itself, but some inquiries will require information to be sent through the cloud. Apple said that data is not stored or made accessible to Apple and that independent experts can inspect the code that runs on the servers to verify this.

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Apple Intelligence will be available for certain models of Apple devices, such as the iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max and iPad and Mac with M1 and later.

So does Musk have a point? Technology and security experts who spoke to The Times offered mixed opinions.

Some pushed back on Musk’s assertion that Apple’s OpenAI deal poses security risks, citing a lack of evidence.

“Like a lot of things that Elon Musk says, it’s not based upon any kind of technical reality now, it’s really just based upon his political beliefs,” said Alex Stamos, chief trust officer at Mountain View, Calif.-based cybersecurity company SentinelOne. “There’s no real factual basis for what he said.”

Stamos, who is also a computer science lecturer at Stanford University and a former chief security officer at Facebook, said he was impressed with Apple’s data protection efforts, adding, “They’re promising a level of transparency that nobody’s really ever provided.

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“It’s hard to totally prove at this point, but what they’ve laid out is about the best you could do to provide this level of AI services running on people’s private data while protecting their privacy,” Stamos said.

“To do the things that people have become accustomed to from ChatGPT, you just can’t do that on phones yet,” Stamos added. “We’re years away from being able to run those kinds of models on something that fits in your pocket and doesn’t burn a hole in your jeans from the amount of power it burns.”

Musk has been critical of OpenAI. He sued the company in February for breach of contract and fiduciary duty, alleging it had shifted its focus from an agreement to develop artificial general intelligence “for the benefit of humanity, not for a for-profit company seeking to maximize shareholder profits.” On Tuesday, Musk, who was a co-founder of and investor in OpenAI, withdrew his lawsuit. Musk’s San Francisco company, xAI, is a competitor to OpenAI in the fast-growing field of artificial intelligence.

Musk has taken aim at Apple in the past, calling it a “Tesla graveyard,” because, according to him, Apple had hired people that Tesla had fired. “If you don’t make it at Tesla, you go work at Apple,” Musk said in an interview with German newspaper Handelsblatt in 2015. “I’m not kidding.”

Still, Rayid Ghani, a machine learning and public policy professor at Carnegie Mellon University, said that, at a high level, he thinks the concerns Musk raised about the OpenAI-Apple partnership should be raised.

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While Apple said that OpenAI is not storing Siri requests, “I don’t think we should just take that at face value,” Ghani said. “I think we need to ask for evidence of that. How does Apple ensure that processes are there in place? What is the recourse if it doesn’t happen? Who’s liable, Apple or OpenAI, and how do we deal with issues?”

Some industry observers also have raised questions about the option for Apple users who have a ChatGPT account to link it with their iPhone, and what information is collected by OpenAI in that case.

“We have to be careful with that one — linking your account on your mobile phone is a big deal,” said Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum. “I personally would not link until there is a lot more clarity about what happens to the data.”

OpenAI pointed to a statement on its website that says, “Users can also choose to connect their ChatGPT account, which means their data preferences will apply under ChatGPT’s policies.” The company declined further comment.

Under OpenAI’s privacy policy, the company says it collects personal information that is included in the input, file uploads or feedback when account holders use its service. ChatGPT has a way for users to opt out of having their inquiries used to train AI models.

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As the use of AI becomes more entwined with people’s lives, industry observers say that it will be crucial to provide transparency for customers and test the trustworthiness of the AI tools.

“We’re going to have to understand something about AI. It’s going to be a lot like plumbing. It’s going to be built into our devices and our lives everywhere,” Dixon said. “The AI is going to have to be trustworthy and we’re going to need to be able to test that trustworthiness.”

Night Archiving Supervisor Valerie Hood contributed to this report.

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