Thousands of Los Angeles hotel employees walked off their jobs Sunday morning, two days before Independence Day, after contract negotiations stalled, union officials said.
The strike may be one of the largest in Los Angeles history and is part of a string of union actions affecting various California industries this year. Labor leaders point to rising expenses in California as one reason for union action, but some employers say unions are merely seeking to increase their political influence.
The Unite Here Local 11 represents about 15,000 hotel and hospitality workers in California, including room attendants, dishwashers, cooks, front desk attendants, bellmen, cooks and dishwashers. The union says it is seeking better pay and benefits, which workers say they need because housing, groceries, gas and other basic needs are becoming increasingly unaffordable on their current salaries. Room attendants, the lowest paid workers in hotels, range from $20 to $25 an hour.
“Today I feel like workers (feel) a combination of anger they could release and hope that we will win a wage that allows them to live in L.A,” said Kurt Petersen, co-president of the union.
Petersen said the union presented its proposal at the first bargaining session April 20. It included an immediate $5-an-hour raise with an additional $3-an-hour raise for 2024 and 2025.
Keith Grossman, a spokesman for a coalition of 44 hotels negotiating with the union, said in a statement that Unite Here Local 11 has not shown a desire to bargain in good faith.
Grossman said the hotel coalition has proposed wage increases of $2.50 per hour in the first 12 months of the contract and $6.25 an hour over the next four years, as well as continuing current health care plans and pension contributions.
Under that proposal, Beverly Hills and downtown LA housekeepers would receive 10% wage increases in 2024 and make more than $31 an hour by January 2027, according to the coalition.
The coalition claims the union responded to its proposal by canceling a scheduled bargaining meeting, refusing to schedule additional meetings, and not budging from the union’s original proposal of a 40% wage increase and a more than 28% increase in benefit costs.
“Based on the union’s actions, it’s clear the union is not focused on the interests of our employees and its members and is instead focused on its political agenda” Grossman said.
Petersen, speaking for the union, denied canceling a planned bargaining session, and said the hotels did not present a counter proposal until two months after the union’s initial proposal.
“We don’t need a bargaining session,” Petersen said. “What we need is for them to sign the agreement that the Westin Bonaventure signed.”
Thursday, June 29, a day before the hotel workers’ contracts expired, the union reached a tentative deal with the Westin Bonaventure, Los Angeles’ largest hotel, that avoided a strike of its 600 or so workers at that location.
“The Westin cares about its workers and the city,” Petersen said, adding that hotel representatives in the coalition are worried about how the worker strike will spread.
“They’re worried that what happens in L.A. will go across the country. I hope it does,” he said.
The strike is the latest among major union actions in California this year.
In March a union representing tens of thousands of teachers, bus drivers, and cafeteria workers won concessions after a walkout shut down LA Unified schools for several days.
Hollywood writers have been on strike since May, and other entertainment unions are threatening action as their contracts expire this summer. A major actors union recently extended its contract to July 12 while negotiations continue.
There also have been strikes, threats and last-minute deals involving nurses, warehouse workers and the food industry this year.
At Le Meridien Delfina, a Marriott-owned boutique hotel in Santa Monica, Patricia Ibáñez rallied a few dozen workers with a loudspeaker as they encircled the sidewalk in front of the hotel. A few hotel guests watched.
Ibáñez said she’s striking because the hotel “wants to save on labor. They don’t want to hire people and give us more benefits.”
Ibáñez said she has to hold a second job at a nearby Jack in the Box to be able to afford her family’s $2,600-a-month apartment in Culver City.
Carlos Martinez, a room attendant, said he is on strike for better pay and better benefits, so he can take care of his growing family. He and his wife are expecting a baby in October.
“I have my wife under my insurance and I want her and my child to be covered,” he said.
He earns $25 an hour, but it’s not enough, he said, with the rising cost of living and with the amount of work room attendants do with limited staff.
“There have been days where the occupancy is 100% and we’re short three or four employees and they have us working double,” he said.
An extra $5 would be a cushion for his family and would make him feel more comfortable working those difficult shifts, he said.
Last year 120,600 workers nationwide participated in major strikes (work stoppages involving 1,000 workers or more), a 50% increase over 2021 but a fraction of the strike activity during its height in the 1970s, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
Special to the Daily Press
This article was originally published by CalMatters.