Southern California hotel workers head for a strike vote as housing costs hit hard

Tribune Content Agency

A union is asking 15,000 workers at hotels in Los Angeles and Orange counties to authorize a strike during the height of tourist season.

Unite Here Local 11 said contracts are expiring June 30 at 62 Southern California hotels, including luxury stays such as the Westin Bonaventure in downtown Los Angeles, the Fairmont Miramar in Santa Monica and the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills.

Union officials say they are asking for the strike authorization vote on June 8 to jump-start sluggish negotiations and convince hotel operators to seriously consider pay increases for their workers.

As Los Angeles gears up for a busy summer travel season — plus future tourist events including the 2026 World Cup and the 2028 Olympics — and hotel company profits rise, it’s crucial to ensure workers are fairly compensated and can afford housing, said Kurt Petersen, co-president of Unite Here Local 11.

Petersen said the union has plans to ramp up pressure on a number of other tourism companies — other hotels as well as food operators at airports, stadiums and resorts whose contracts are also set to expire June 30. He said in total more than 20,000 Southern California tourism workers covered by roughly 100 contracts will be involved in actions this summer.

The union represents non-management hotel employees, including front desk clerks, housekeepers and hotel restaurant workers. Marriott International and Hilton Hotels & Resorts are among the major employers in talks with Unite Here Local 11.

Faced with the union’s proposals at the first bargaining session on April 20 — including an immediate across-the-board $5 hourly raise — hotels have largely “gone silent,” Petersen said. The union laid out other proposals related to healthcare, pensions and a policy against using E-Verify, a federal system used to check work eligibility, to protect immigrant workers, he said.

“They haven’t provided a single counter proposal. They haven’t put a single penny on the table,” Petersen said.

Hotel companies did not attend a second scheduled bargaining session. Lawyers representing a newly formed coalition of about a dozen hotels showed up to a third session on Friday, Petersen said.

Michael D’Angelo, a vice president of labor relations at Hyatt, said the company is disappointed the union is considering a strike.

“Hyatt has just commenced negotiations along with other Los Angeles and Orange County hotels and is committed to bargaining in good faith,” D’Angelo said in a statement.

He said Hyatt and Unite Here have successfully negotiated agreements this year in other markets, including a contract with Unite Here Local 11 in Long Beach.

“We remain optimistic that a mutually beneficial agreement can be reached without a strike,” D’Angelo said.

Brenda Mendoza, a uniform attendant at JW Marriott in the L.A. Live entertainment district, said her job doesn’t pay enough to allow her to live in Koreatown, the neighborhood where she was raised.

Mendoza, 42, was displaced from her two-bedroom apartment in Downey last year when rent was jacked up to $3,000, she said. Now she lives in Apple Valley, a two-hour commute each way.

“Living in L.A. is no longer an option” on her salary, Mendoza said. “Nobody wants to go to strike. But if that’s what it’s going to take then that’s what we’re going to do.”

The action comes amid broader concerns that city leaders have dropped the ball with regards to establishing worker protections for the upcoming World Cup and Olympics. In April, the Garment Worker Center, a labor advocacy group, fiercely criticized and lobbied for last-minute changes to DTLA 2040, a long-term rezoning plan, to protect low-wage workers and small apparel businesses in the Fashion District.

Beyond pushing for higher pay in collective bargaining agreements, Unite Here Local 11 has also pushed fair pay initiatives in various California cities, including Los Angeles, Irvine, Santa Monica and Long Beach.

Most recently, the union filed an initiative in Culver City seeking to guarantee a $25 hourly minimum wage and to protect room attendants against sexual assault.

A similar ballot initiative was submitted in March in Rancho Palos Verdes for workers at the Terranea Resort. In 2019, voters defeated a ballot initiative that would have raised resort workers’ salaries and equipped employees with panic buttons to help prevent sexual assaults.