Californians are no strangers to the rise of “nepo babies” – children who get a leg up in their careers thanks to famous or otherwise wealthy and connected parents. But the state’s hotel union is giving Hollywood a run for its money when it comes to perpetuating this cycle.
Unite Here Local 11 – an influential hospitality worker union based in Los Angeles – may have the market cornered on nepotism in today’s labor movement. The family members of all three of Unite Here Local 11’s co-presidents have benefited from leadership roles and employment at Unite Here and other labor unions and affiliated groups in California.
For starters, union Co-President Ada Briceño is married to Unite Here Local 19 leader Enrique Fernandez. Local 19 is another branch of the union based in San Diego. Records suggest that Fernandez’s daughter – Maria Fernandez – has benefitted from her family’s influence at Unite Here.
Maria Fernandez has climbed the ranks of several labor-friendly non-profit organizations since the early 2010s. She currently serves as the executive director of Working Partnerships USA – a left-leaning labor advocacy group. Her father has been president of Working Partnerships since 2008. He has also been on the board since at least 2006.
Maria Fernandez began working at the group in 2012. Unite Here Local 19 has paid the group for “research services” and “charity” every year since. The total payments amount to over $200,000. Fernandez has seen her salary rise from $62,966 in 2015 to $176,533 in total compensation in 2021.
Fernandez has also climbed the ranks at the South Bay AFL-CIO, where she was first listed in 2017 as a trustee and is now the first vice president of the executive board. Her father has been treasurer of South Bay AFL-CIO since at least 2004. Since 2010, Unite Here Local 19 has paid the group more than $100,000.
Unite Here’s benefits to the Fernandez family do not stop there. Maria Fernandez’s husband – Carlos Cortes – was listed as a receptionist of Unite Here Local 19 in 2016, making $38,039 a year. In 2022, Cortes made over $60,000 as an executive board director.
Back at Unite Here Local 11, Co-President Susan Minato has paid her husband a substantial sum of money for “IT Services” throughout the years. He earned more than $600,000 for IT services from 2014 to 2021.
Local 11 Co-President Kurt Petersen also has a family member benefiting from his position. His daughter Hannah Petersen is an organizer for the union. While the union reportedly pressured out-of-work members to pay dues during the pandemic, Hannah Petersen actually managed to get a seven percent pay hike.
Before she made it onto the union payroll, it appears Petersen’s father recruited her to “salt” for the union. This is a practice whereby unions get one of their own hired at a targeted employer, to assist with organizing efforts from inside the company.
Apparently, it’s common practice for Local 11’s leaders to advance the careers of their nearest and dearest – often at the expense of the union’s membership. But union members might be less than thrilled to know the extent at which Local 11 is keeping it all in the family.
Charlyce Bozzello is the communications director at the Center for Union Facts, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to transparency and accountability in today’s labor movement.