The JW Marriott Le Merigot (File photo)

Local residents and workers are rallying around JW Marriott housekeepers who are attempting to resolve a dispute with hotel management in the wake of rumors that the hotel may soon be sold.

In 2019, Santa Monica City Council passed a housekeeper protection ordinance that sought to guarantee fair pay for heavy workloads and prevent employers from matching minimum wage increases with additional responsibilities. The law also established required training on public health issues and worker protections and ensured worker retention in the event of a sale.

Former JW Marriott Santa Monica Le Merigot employee Nellie Ruiz, who participated in a rally outside of the hotel Wednesday, remembers fighting for the passage of 2019 ordinance even though she was no longer employed by the company. She said in an interview shortly after Wednesday’s events that workers have clashed with management over many issues in addition to the unlawful polling of employees.

“In November, 2016, an overwhelming majority of us voted to join a union, and since then, it’s been a journey negotiating with the company,” Ruiz said, mentioning there’s still no contract in place and the General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board has issued eleven complaints against the JW Marriott Santa Monica Le Merigot Hotel for violations of the National Labor Relations Act.

The Santa Monica Democratic Club also supported Santa Monica’s housekeeping protections, and in the months since the ordinance took effect, members have kept a close eye on the Marriott situation. Now, the group intends to vote on a resolution this week that calls on the Columbia Sussex Corporation to immediately abide by local law and orders from the National Labor Relations Board regarding all sanctions and settlements.

The proposed resolution concludes by calling on the Columbia Sussex Corporation and its current management personnel to neither seek nor accept any offer to remain in control of hotel operations management following the sale of the JW Marriott Santa Monica Le Merigot Hotel.

“And in the event the sale is not completed by December 31, 2021, the current management personnel, including any managers employed during the period in which the violations of labor law occurred, will be replaced and have no managerial authority for operations of the Hotel,” the resolution reads.

Ruiz said it feels amazing to have the support of local organizations and residents despite it being five years since the union campaign began.

“It’s great that we still have people in the community who show their support. It gives us the strength to be able to do this kind of fight and it’s really encouraging to us. I think that’s why we’ve been able to go on for so long, because we not only have belief in justice and feel that we deserve it, but knowing that we have the support of others helps us to continue,” Ruiz said, noting Wednesday that she’s not exactly sure how a sale will affect her peers and the pending lawsuits.

“But the ordinance that Council passed in 2019 included a worker-retention aspect so the hope is that the new buyer would respect that aspect of the ordinance. We also want to see a resolution to the years-long labor dispute before they sell the property,” she added as she detailed how the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement has scheduled hearings in May for wage claims that eleven housekeepers filed in 2018 against Columbia Sussex.

And with Wednesday’s rally in the books, Ruiz said she and JW Marriott workers are now looking to prepare for the labor standards hearings.

“There’s always been ongoing organizing on the inside with workers because we are always in communication with one another, even though a lot of workers aren’t working. We still meet regularly over Zoom to organize and to plan on how to move ahead with what we need to do to continue the fight,” Ruiz said as she emphasized the importance of communication and asked residents to help out the cause by sharing the stories of the local housekeepers.

“Honestly, the best thing to do is share our story because it can be difficult for workers to talk about what we went through and the stuff we’ve experienced and what we’re having to do to fight for justice,” Ruiz said. “We want more people to know about our cause because, hopefully, the people who are thinking of buying the hotel will see what’s been going on — and I’m hoping that we’ll get somebody who wants to resolve a lot of these issues; that would be great.”