HOTEL WORKERS - Early in her career, Taylor Swift was resolutely apolitical. But over the past decade, she's been much more outspoken about social injustice.
She's raised her voice about LGBTQ equality. She’s endorsed Democratic candidates in her home state of Tennessee. In 2020, during protests in response to the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Swift denounced Trump’s plan to dispatch military troops to that city. “We will vote you out in November,” Swift tweeted, noting that Trump had “stok[ed] the fires of white supremacy and racism [his] entire presidency.”
She's taken on the corporate-dominated music industry. In 2014, she withdrew her music from Spotify to protest the small amount of royalty payments that the actual singers receive for each play of a song. In 2020, she tried to regain ownership of her masters from her label. When that failed, she began re-re-recording her old songs in order to own them.
She's also been a generous and responsible employer, paying employees well and treating them fairly. She recently distributed about $55 million in bonuses to the dancers, riggers, sound technicians, catering, video, audio and lighting staff who played a part in taking her concert tour across the country.
On July 27, the hotel workers union in LA, UNITE HERE Local 11, in a full page ad in the Los Angeles Times, asked Swift to cancel her six sold-out concerts at SoFi stadium in Inglewood, in solidarity with the 15,000 hotel workers who have been on strike for several weeks at over 40 hotels in the LA area.
UNITE HERE knows that tens of thousands of her fans are traveling long distances to attend these concerts and have reserved rooms in area hotels. As the Federal Reserve recently reported, wherever Swift has a concert, hotel rates go up, so the hotels profit handsomely when she's in the area. The union expanded the strike this week to the hotels near SoFi Stadium, including the Four Points Sheraton, Holiday Inn, Westin, and Sheraton Gateway hotels
“Hotels are doubling and tripling [prices] for her fans,” Kurt Petersen, co-president of Unite Here Local 11, told the Washington Post. “Our problem is that the hotels are going to benefit [and] have this windfall of profits, and they’re not going to share it with their workers.”
Local 11 hopes that persuading Swift to respect workers’ picket lines will pressure the hotels—most of them owned by global chains and private equity firms like Starwood Capital and Blackstone–to settle their dispute with the union and sign another three-year contract.
So far, only the Westin Bonaventure in downtown LA has reached a tentative agreement with the union. UNITE HERE wants the other hotels to agree to the same contract.
The hotels have hired strikebreakers, many from out of state. Even with these “scabs,” however, many hotels have already cut back on some core services, such as not cleaning every room each day and shifting food offerings from full-service to buffet style.
During the pandemic, LA are hotels received $14 billion in federal bailouts, while cutting jobs. Many UNITE HERE Local 11 members were laid off and suffered significant hardships. This year, hotel revenues in LA County have exceeded pre-pandemic levels.
On Thursday, 53 California elected officials – including Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, state Senators Maria Elena Durazo and David Min, LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn, and Assembly Majority Leader Isaac Bryan -- sent Swift an open letter, encouraging her to postpone her LA concerts, which began Thursday night and are scheduled to continue through Wednesday, to show solidarity with striking hotel workers.
"Hotel workers are fighting for their lives," the letter said. "They are fighting for a living wage. They have gone on strike. Now, they are asking for your support."
I'd like to see her cancel the concerts, but that is probably not going to happen, since the first one has already happened.
So what should Swift do?
Here's my 10 point plan:
- She can definitely make sure to talk about the hotel workers strike, and the importance of unions, at each of her concerts.
- In the mornings or afternoons prior to her evening concerts, she can walk a picket line with striking UNITE HERE workers, which would certainly draw a great deal of media attention to the workers' cause.
- She can invite one or more hotel workers on stage to talk about their lives and why they are on strike.
- She can make a significant donation to the union's strike fund and ask her audiences to donate, too, with an on-line donation or by passing the hat, so to speak.
- She can perform the union anthem "Solidarity Forever," and lead the audience in chanting "Si, se puede" (“yes, we can”) at her concerts.
- She can distribute a list of hotels in the LA area where workers are on strike and ask her fans not to stay in any of them, even to cancel reservations (and find alternative accommodations).
- She can pledge to only stay (along with her crew) in union hotels in the future wherever she's performing.
- She can assign a staff person to investigate in advance labor issues in every U.S. city where she performs and make sure to promote the pro-union campaigns during her concerts and public statements and pre-concert interviews), including comments on her Twitter account, which has 94 million followers.
- She can urge her fans - including concert-goers - to register to vote and to vote against Trump if he wins the Republican nomination and is on the 2024 ballot.
- She can urge her fans to volunteer to work for liberal pro-labor, pro-civil rights, pro-immigrant, pro-choice, pro-voting rights, pro-LGBTQ, pro-Green New Deal, and pro-gun control Democrat candidates for Congress, governor, state legislature, and other offices in the cities and states where she performs.
A Gallup Poll last year found that 71 percent of Americans now support unions—the highest proportion since 1965. Young people (18-34) and women were the strongest union supporters.
In her 2020 hit song “Only the Young,” which deals with such issues as gun violence and school shootings, Swift observed that people in positions of power “aren't gonna help us” because they are “too busy helping themselves.” “They aren't gonna change this,” Swift wrote, “We gotta do it ourselves,” adding “Don't say you're too tired to fight.”
LA’s hotel workers are following Swift’s advice, but they would appreciate her support.
(Peter Dreier, E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics, Founding Chair, Urban & Environmental Policy Department, Co-founder and co-coordinator, Campaign Semester program Occidental College. Author: Baseball Rebels: The Players, People, and Social Movements That Shook Up the Game and Changed America (University of Nebraska Press, 2022) – coauthor with Robert Elias, Major League Rebels: Baseball Battles Over Workers’ Rights and American Empire (Rowman & Littlefield, 2022) – coauthor with Robert Elias. http://www.peterdreier.com)