Unite Here Local 11, the union representing hotel workers in Southern California who have been striking on and off for nearly five months, said it has reached a tentative contract agreement with Le Merigot Santa Monica.
The contract will — once it’s ratified — raise wages, strengthen pensions and increase investments in healthcare for about 100 employees at Le Merigot,union spokesperson Maria Hernandez said.
Le Merigot, a Marriott hotel, is the fifth property to reach a deal with the union.
The first was the Westin Bonaventure, which reached a tentative deal just as contracts were set to expire June 30 for more than 15,000 hotel workers at some 60 properties in Los Angeles and Orange counties. The second was the Biltmore in downtown L.A.’s financial district, which announced a deal in September. Last month, the union announced agreements with Loews Hollywood and Laguna Cliffs Marriott in Dana Point.
“We have now won standard-setting contracts in downtown L.A., Hollywood, Orange County and Santa Monica. There are no excuses for the rest. Workers deserve to share in the prosperity of the tourism industry,” said Kurt Petersen, co-president of Unite Here Local 11.
The union has declined to give specifics on wages and other economic details of the agreements it has reached thus far, and the contracts have not yet been put to a vote by workers.
Keith Grossman, an attorney representing a group of more than 40 Southern California hotel owners and operators in talks with the union, did not respond to a request for comment.
Peter Hillan, spokesperson for the Hotel Assn. of Los Angeles, said Le Merigot was not a member of the hotel group. Santa Monica hotels that are part of the coordinated bargaining group include Fairmont Miramar, Le Meridien Delfina, Courtyard by Marriott, Hampton Inn & Suites and the Viceroy, Hillan said.
The union held a gathering with faith community leaders Thursday to discuss instances of violence against picketing hotel workers as well as the alleged exploitation of unhoused migrant workers brought in to replace striking workers at Le Meridien Delfina in Santa Monica.
The event, held at St. Augustine By-the-Sea church in Santa Monica was attended by local leaders including former Los Angeles Councilman Mike Bonin and Santa Monica Human Services Commissioner Luis Barrera Castañón, the union said in a news release.
The union also sent a letter last week to Santa Monica City Attorney Douglas T. Sloan urging the city to investigate possible violations of local laws by Le Meridien Delfina and other hotels that hired migrants as replacement workers.
The letter notes potential violations of hourly wages below Santa Monica‘s minimum of $19.73 and failures to provide “panic buttons” for workers’ safety and related training.
The letter cites reporting by The Times that also prompted an investigation by Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón. In the letter, the union said it has also requested that the California labor commissioner investigate the hotels’ and subcontractors’ compliance with state laws regarding itemized wage statements and lunch and rest breaks.
Café Tropical closed this week. Debts and a bitter family dispute played a role
The closure this week of Café Tropical — a nearly 50-year-old Cuban restaurant in Silver Lake — had less to do with small business struggles amid changing demographics and more to do with a family feud over funding, according to court documents reviewed by The Times.
The shuttering of the neighborhood staple was announced with a note in its window informing patrons the last day of service was Friday.
The owner, Daniel Navarro, had previously spoken about the difficulties of running a restaurant and owning a small business in Silver Lake. In interviews, he said he’d tried to evolve with the times and how the COVID pandemic also took a toll on business.
But court documents reviewed by The Times show that the restaurant’s closure may be tied to a simmering family dispute over the eatery, which Navarro bought in 2019. Navarro has failed to pay his mother more than $350,000 he owes in connection with a lawsuit she filed against him.
A person familiar with the business who was not authorized to speak on the record confirmed the closure was due to a family dispute.
Navarro’s mother, Gladys Navarro, sued her son in 2022, alleging that he illicitly used money from the family business to fund Café Tropical.
Daniel Navarro, his mother and his sister, Natalie Navarro, owned El Cochinito, another Cuban restaurant in Silver Lake that has been in the family since Navarro’s grandmother opened it in 1988.
In January 2019, Navarro informed his mother and sister that he wanted to purchase Café Tropical, on Sunset Boulevard, according to the lawsuit. His mother and sister told him they wanted him to run it as a separate business.
“Gladys and Natalie made it clear to Daniel that they did not want Cafe Tropical Bakery being owned or operated by El Cochinito or merged or commingled in any way with El Cochinito or its assets,” the lawsuit reads. “Daniel acknowledged to his mother and sister that he would not own or operate Cafe Tropical through El Cochinito.”
The two found out later that year, however, that Navarro had taken out loans for the new venture and used money from the shared family business to pay them back, according to the suit.
Navarro’s actions caused El Cochinito to incur debts of more than $700,000, his mother claims in the suit.
Gladys Navarro did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday. Nor did her lawyer.
The suit claims that in addition to opening Café Tropical, Navarro used money from their El Cochinito business to open Bolita, an East Hollywood bar.
“Daniel did not discuss the decision to open Bolita, nor did he receive authority or consent from Gladys and Natalie to do so,” court documents show.
A letter from Gladys Navarro’s lawyer to her son in April 2022 states that Daniel Navarro, along with a business partner, Jonathan Rubinstein, who is also a defendant in the lawsuit, must account for $2.5 million that had either been spent or transferred from company to company.
The parties agreed to a settlement in May in which Navarro would pay his mother $350,000 and in exchange, she and his sister would transfer their stock in the company to Navarro, according to court documents. But Navarro did not make the July payment date.
A judge on Wednesday ordered that Navarro pay his mother $366,000. He shut down Café Tropical and El Cochinito the day before. Bar Bolita announced Wednesday it would close permanently as well.
Daniel Navarro and Natalie Navarro did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.
On top of the family dispute, Café Tropical was hit with another lawsuit alleging the restaurant failed to pay more than $38,000 in rent over the last year.
Monthly rent for the restaurant was about $17,400, according to the suit filed last month by Mangos Worldwide LLC.
Mangos Worldwide served Café Tropical with a “Notice to Pay Rent or Surrender Possession” on Nov. 11, which required the restaurant to either pay the owed rent or move out of the building three days after receiving the notice, the suit says.
Café Tropical failed to pay the back rent and did not move out, the landlord claimed in the suit, which was filed Nov. 17.
Times staff writer Lucas Kwan Peterson contributed to this report.
Blue Shield of California customer data stolen in cyberattack
An unknown number of Blue Shield of California members may have had their personal data, including Social Security numbers, birth dates and treatment information, stolen during a cybersecurity breach this spring.
The healthcare insurance provider said the attack targeted the files of one of its contracted vendors, which manages vision benefits for many of Blue Shield’s customers.
“The vendor immediately took the server offline, launched an investigation into the incident, engaged a cybersecurity firm and reported the matter to the FBI,” Blue Shield said in announcing the breach last month. “It was determined that the unauthorized third party exfiltrated information from the server on May 28, 2023, and May 31, 2023.”
Oakland-based Blue Shield said it was notified of the breach on Sept. 1 after the vendor discovered a week earlier that an unknown vulnerability in its system had been exploited.
Blue Shield added that there was “no evidence” that its own systems and emails were affected or vulnerable to the attack.
The company said it is providing affected members with no-cost credit monitoring with identity restoration services, and has established a dedicated call center to answer questions. It advised members to review their credit reports and account statements and to notify law enforcement of suspicious activity.
Blue Shield did not disclose how many of its 4.5 million health plan members may have been affected and did not return a call and email for comment Friday.
Column: The depressing fall of Sports Illustrated reveals the real tragedy of AI
Quick, name five classic American magazines.
Did you say Sports Illustrated? I did. And I’m not even a sports guy. But if you’re of a certain age, you know Sports Illustrated. Along with, say, People, Time and National Geographic, it has long lined the dentist offices, neighbors’ doormats and coffee tables of your life. It’s an institution. At one point, it boasted 3 million subscribers. It’s won numerous awards and accolades. The evening news would do whole segments about its swimsuit issue.
Today, it’s pumping out third-rate articles by AI-generated writers in a darkening corner of the internet. It’s a stunning fall for one of the great icons of American sports journalism. So what happened? How did such a celebrated publication get here? The answers point us to one of the most pressing — and unlikely — dangers posed by the ongoing AI boom.
First, the facts: On Monday, the tech and culture site Futurism published an expose that revealed Sports Illustrated was publishing bizarre and badly written articles attributed to authors that didn’t exist.
The reporters traced the fake authors’ headshots to a website that sells AI-generated images, and sources told them that the stories they allegedly wrote were produced by AI, too. “The content is absolutely AI-generated,” one said, “no matter how much they say that it’s not.” When contacted, Arena Group, Sports Illustrated’s publisher, deleted all of the suspicious content and, in a statement, denied it was created by AI. Arena blamed the mess on AdVon, a third-party company hired to produce content.
The saga has been heatedly discussed by journalists and media watchers, and lamented by onetime fans of the iconic brand. Generative AI very much remains a hot-button topic, and the question of whether it’s ethical — or a good idea — to use AI has driven much of the conversation.
But it’s worth backing up and looking at the bigger picture here, and the conditions that led to the use of such sketchy AI in the first place. Because this story is as much about bad management, sheer laziness and how relentlessly profit-seeking corporate management can erode our cultural institutions as it is about any given technology.
Sports Illustrated was already in dire shape long before Arena brought in the AI. Amid economic challenges that confront all print media, the magazine’s revenue and subscriber base declined over the 2010s. It repeatedly downsized, switched from a weekly to a monthly publication schedule and was sold by its owner, Time Inc., to a company called Authentic Brands Group, or ABG, which is in the business of inking lucrative licensing deals. ABG then sold a 10-year license to publish Sports Illustrated to our new friends at Arena Group.
As a result of this arrangement, Sports Illustrated branding is now showing up both on dietary supplements and on thousands of hastily produced blog posts. After all, on the publication side of the business, “Arena’s options for generating revenue are somewhat limited, encouraging a daily churn of articles,” as the New York Times reports. “Hundreds of sites dedicated to individual teams — helmed by non-staff writers paid small sums — were created with little oversight and diluted what it meant for ‘Sports Illustrated’ to write something.” Arena has continued to fire editors and staffers, while enforcing weekly quotas of article production. (On the licensing side, business is booming — ABG says it has doubled Sports Illustrated’s earnings. That’s a lot of Sports Illustrated-brand diet pills. It also launched an online SI-branded casino in 2021.)
In other words, Sports Illustrated is run by not one but two vampiric entities with markedly little interest in the magazine’s erstwhile core mission — you know, the thing that made it so beloved in the first place, doing good sports journalism — and every interest in maximizing profits at every opportunity. And they have squeezed the lemon until it was dry.
And here’s where the AI comes in.
Not as a tool deployed by forward-looking executives eager to embrace the future, but as a last-ditch effort to extract the final bits of value from the pieces of something that’s already broken. Sports Illustrated has already slashed full-time staff, spun up a content mill with freelancers pumping out content for a fraction of the price, and let editorial standards sink into the gutter. The AI play is an arrow out of the same quiver.
It’s increasingly clear that to those in the content generation business — worth noting maybe that the original founders of Sports Illustrated would probably bristle at such a term — AI has become popular as a relatively cheap, wholly unimaginative way to attempt to generate value with the lowest amount of effort or investment.
To wit: This year has already seen a rash of AI scandals in the media world. The staffers of G/O Media, the publisher of popular sites including Gizmodo and the Onion, revolted after their publisher deployed generative AI to produce bland, error-ridden content. The once-venerable tech site CNET was caught — also by Futurism, incidentally — publishing AI-generated stories without disclosing them as such. BuzzFeed controversially announced that it would be using AI to generate posts like its trademark quizzes, and then disbanded its human-staffed News division.
Most recently, Gannett, the publisher of USA Today and many other newspapers, was accused of publishing AI-generated review content — curiously, it too blamed AdVon, the same company Sports Illustrated fingered in its statement on the matter.
All of these stories have one major thread in common — each of the media institutions in question had been facing economic challenges, and was run by an owner whose interest was not in producing a quality publication but gaming the algorithm to maximize profits while minimizing staff. As with SI, all were in dire straits before AI entered the equation.
G/O Media, formerly GMG Media, formerly Gawker Media, had been bankrupted by a malicious lawsuit funded by Silicon Valley titan Peter Thiel, repackaged and sold to Univision, then sold again to a private equity firm, Great Hill Partners. In a push to maximize revenues, Great Hill set about firing staffers, introducing spammy autoplay ads and asking staff to write more slideshows, which require readers to click more times than regular stories. In short, a nakedly profit-seeking agenda — one that came at the direct expense of both staff and readers — was in place long before the publisher started mucking around with AI.
When it finally did, notably publishing an article whose sole purpose was to list the “Star Wars” movies in order and yet got the order wrong — it caused an uproar.
Similarly, CNET has been hurting for years. Once a powerhouse of tech media, it was acquired by CBS for $1.8 billion in 2008, then was sold to a little-known private equity company based in South Carolina called Red Ventures. The Verge describes its business model as “straightforward and explicit: it publishes content designed to rank highly in Google search for ‘high-intent’ queries and then monetizes that traffic with lucrative affiliate links.” AI was used, it is believed, to streamline and maximize that process.
Both CNET and G/O are now owned by private equity firms, and much has been written about what a disaster it’s been for journalism to hand such companies the keys — one academic paper even quantified the damage. Which has been considerable.
As a journalist, all of this depresses me — I worked for Gizmodo for a bit, and was once an avid reader of Gawker, Deadspin and the AV Club, all of which have been gutted. BuzzFeed News won a Pulitzer and was widely loved. Sports Illustrated was a legend.
And look, things change. Cultural institutions evolve, fade, die out. Not every magazine needs to exist forever. But it is a bummer when an otherwise popular, viable, even beloved cultural institution is killed off — while there’s a team that’s working overtime at the helm that wants to keep the lights on — because a Wall Street firm or an adventuring licensing company can increase earnings at the margins by cutting out its heart.
The tragedy of AI is not that it stands to replace good journalists but that it takes every gross, callous move made by management to degrade the production of content — and promises to accelerate it.
If journalists are outraged at the rise of AI and its use in editorial operations and newsrooms, they should be outraged not because it’s a sign that they’re about to be replaced but because management has such little regard for the work being done by journalists that it’s willing to prioritize the automatic production of slop.
AI does not emerge from a media company’s innovation lab but from a handshake deal with a shady third-party company. It’s a hail Mary move that aspires to take the place of formulating a real plan to turn a business around — a future-shaped Get Out of Jail Free card for business leaders confronting bad times. And it’s almost certain to fail to deliver.
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