LOS ANGELES: Thousands of Los Angeles-area hotel workers went on strike on Sunday (Jul 2) demanding pay hikes and improved benefits in a region where high housing costs make it difficult for low-wage earners to live close to where they hold jobs, union officials said.
Unite Here Local 11, which represents 15,000 workers at more than 60 major hotels in Los Angeles and Orange counties, declared the strike a day after the workers’ contract expired. It marks one of the largest strikes to hit the US hospitality industry in recent years.
The labour dispute comes during the July Fourth holiday weekend as Southern California’s busy summer travel season goes into high swing. It overlaps with a Hollywood screenwriters strike that was headed into a ninth week, already taking a toll on the Los Angeles economy and showbiz production.
Hotel workers, including housekeepers, dishwashers, cooks, waiters, bellhops and front-desk agents, struggle to afford housing in cities where they work, and many were idled during the COVID-19 pandemic while industry profits soared, the union said in a statement.
“Our members were devastated first by the pandemic and now by the greed of their bosses,” union co-president Kurt Petersen said in a statement.
An industry bargaining group representing more than 40 hotels accused the union of political posturing, pursuing the strike as an organising tool and failing to negotiate in good faith.
Several thousand workers walked off the job starting Sunday morning at about a dozen hotels, and the numbers are expected to grow as the strike wears on, union spokesperson Maria Hernandez said.
Among the hotels targeted the first day, she said, were the InterContinental, Hotel Indigo, Millennium Biltmore and JW Marriott LA Live in downtown Los Angeles, as well as the Fairmont Miramar in Santa Monica, the Sheraton Universal in Universal City and Laguna Cliffs Marriott in Dana Point.
The industry bargaining group said its hotels would remain open with management and non-union staff filling in for striking workers.
The union reached a contract deal on Friday with the largest of its employers, the Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites in downtown LA, averting a strike against that property, Hernandez said.
She urged the industry’s negotiating coalition, the Coordinated Bargaining Group, “to follow the lead of the Westin Bonaventure.”
TWO SIDES FAR APART
The bargaining group was negotiating on behalf of 44 unionised hotels, with the remaining 21 expected to go along with whatever settlement is reached, according to the Los Angeles City News Service.
The union said its workers earn US$20 to US$25 an hour and is demanding an immediate increase of US$5 an hour and an additional US$3 an hour in subsequent years of the contract, plus improved healthcare and retirement benefits.
Both the union and management said the hotel group has countered by proposing wage hikes of US$2.50 an hour in the first 12 months and US$6.25 over four years for most workers. Wages for housekeepers in Beverly Hills and downtown Los Angeles who currently earn US$25 an hour would rise 10 per cent next year and to more than US$31 by 2027, under the industry’s offer.
Unite Here also is seeking creation of a hospitality workforce housing fund, which according to management would be funded with a new 7 per cent tax on guests staying at unionised hotels.
The union cites survey results showing 53 per cent of hotel workers have either been forced to move in the past five years or will move in the near future due to soaring housing costs. Many workers report having to commute hours from areas where they live far outside the cities where they work, the union said.
Los Angeles has been a flashpoint for labour strife on several fronts this year, including the protracted writers strike and a three-day walkout in March by education support staff for the Los Angeles Unified School District.
The union representing 22,000 dockworkers at the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach and other West Coast terminals reached a contract deal in June after 13 months of protracted labour talks, averting a strike that could have disrupted US supply chains.