Striking hotel workers return after holiday weekend

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Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — Hundreds of hospitality workers who walked picket lines over the holiday weekend, targeting 19 Southern California hotels, were back on the job July 5, but union officials warned that more work stoppages could occur at any time.

Workers represented by the Unite Here Local 11 union went on strike at 6:01 a.m. July 2, and picketing continued through the Fourth of July holiday at hotels in Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Orange County and elsewhere.

The workers returned to their jobs July 5, but the union insisted that doesn’t mean the strike is over. The union’s Maria Hernandez said the first round of picketing targeted 19 hotel properties, but workers at 41 other properties are poised to walk off the job — something she said could happen “at any moment.”

In a statement, union officials said the holiday walkout “marks just the first wave of strikes and disruption by hotel workers across the region. Workers will not rest until they are paid a wage that allows them to live in the communities where they work.”

The contract between the hotels and the union expired at 12:01 a.m. July 1, although the union reached a deal last week with the largest of its employers, the Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites in downtown Los Angeles. Contract agreements are unresolved with the remaining hotels.

Officials have said the hotels will remain open with management and other nonunion staff filling in.

There has been no word of any renewed contract talks between the union and the coordinated bargaining group negotiating on behalf of the hotels.

Speaking to KNX News, Hernandez said the hotels know what workers want — as reflected in the agreement reached with the Westin Bonaventure.

Representatives for the hotels accused workers of being inflexible in their demands.

The union “has not budged from its opening demand two months ago of up to a 40% wage increase and an over 28% increase in benefit costs. From the outset, the union has shown no desire to engage in productive, good faith negotiations with this group,” the reps said in a statement provided to the Los Angeles Times.

Attorney Keith Grossman of Hirschfeld Kraemer, one of two firms representing the hotel coalition, told The Times that employers have offered raises of $2.50 an hour in the first 12 months and $6.25 over four years. He said housekeepers at unionized hotels in Beverly Hills and downtown Los Angeles, who currently make $25 per hour, would get a 10% wage increase in 2024 and make more than $31 per hour by January 2027.

The workers are on strike “because the union is determined to have one,” Grossman said.

Unite Here Local 11 represents up to 15,000 workers employed at about 60 major hotels in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

On June 8, 96% of the union’s members approved a strike authorization. Union officials said a recent survey of its members showed that 53% said they have moved in the past five years or will move in the near future because of soaring housing costs in the Los Angeles area.

The workers include thousands of cooks, room attendants, dishwashers, servers, bellhops and front desk agents.

Union officials said their members earn $20 to $25 an hour.

Negotiators are asking for an immediate $5 an hour raise and an additional $3 an hour in subsequent years of the contract along with improvements in health care and retirement benefits.

The union is also seeking to create a hospitality workforce housing fund. Many union members say they’re now commuting hours from areas like Apple Valley, Palmdale, California City and Victorville.

“This walkout was the first of many actions that may come this summer by workers at hotels across Southern California, and it is only one tool in our toolbox,” Unite Here Local 11 President Kurt Petersen said in a statement. “We have put the industry on notice that the workers have suffered enough.”  

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