A service workers union representing nearly 15,000 hotel workers from approximately 60 properties across Los Angeles and Orange Counties declared a strike over the Fourth of July holiday.
The employee-members of union Unite Here Local 11, which represents 32,000 hospitality workers across Southern California and Arizona, including non-managerial staff at the Beverly Hilton, Four Seasons Regent Beverly Wilshire and Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills, have been demanding increased pay and improved healthcare benefits.
Over the holiday weekend, from July 2-4, the union’s membership engaged in a three-day strike, leading to walkouts at more than a dozen hotels across Southern California, with employees and their allies marching in picket lines outside hotels.
Beverly Hills hotels, however, were unaffected.
“It’s up to the workers to decide when they want to do it,” Unite Here Local 11 Spokesperson Maria Hernandez told the Courier. “I know a lot of hotels are doing pickets right now. Folks at Beverly Hills places could walk out at any moment.”
While a walkout at Beverly Hills’ unionized hotels had “not yet” occurred, it could happen at any time, Hernandez said.
On July 5, thousands of workers returned to work. In a statement, the union described the July 2-4 walkouts as the “first wave of strikes and disruption by hotel workers across the region.”
“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 Co-President Kurt Petersen said. “We have put the industry on notice that the workers have suffered enough.”
Beverly Hills community members may be familiar with Unite Here Local 11. The organization behind the recent hotel workers strike also voiced opposition to the Cheval Blanc Beverly Hills hotel project. A signature-gathering effort by the labor union led to a referendum and, ultimately, the project’s demise.
For the past several weeks, the union has been engaged in heated bargaining with a coalition of more than 40 hotels on a new labor agreement to replace the current agreement that expired at midnight on June 30. On June 8, Unite Here Local 11 members voted to authorize the strike, with 96% of those who voted supporting it.
On July 1, one day after the workers’ contracts expired, the union declared the strike for 61 hotels in Southern California. About 15 hotels have since experienced work stoppages, according to Pete Hillan, a spokesperson for the Hotel Association of Los Angeles, an advocacy group that supports hospitality.
The union has described the action as the “largest hotel strike in Southern California history.”
Most union members—including cooks, room attendants, dishwashers, servers, bellmen and front-desk agents—are paid between $20 to $25 an hour. The union is demanding an immediate $5 per hour wage increase for its members, which would amount to a 20 to 25% raise.
Their demands also include an annual $3 hourly wage boost for the three subsequent years of their contract along with improved healthcare and retirement benefits.
Unite Here Local 11 representatives cite the rising cost of living in Southern California as one of the reasons they’re seeking higher pay. Many unionized hotel employees have been displaced from their homes, which were located near their places of work, because of housing unaffordability. Consequently, they’re forced to commute long distances.
The union’s leadership also points tofederal bailout money offered to hotels during the pandemic, saying workers themselves are struggling.
Coordinated Bargaining Group is negotiating on behalf of 44 unionized Los Angeles and Orange County hotels, with the remaining hotels expected to go along with whatever settlement is reached.
“From the outset, the union has shown no desire to engage in productive, good faith negotiations with this group,” attorney Keith Grossman, lead spokesperson for the Coordinated Bargaining Group, told the Courier. In a phone interview, he accused the union of “choosing political and PR stunts and strike preparation over good faith negotiations,” adding, “It is the union that is focusing on taking employees out of work rather than meeting to negotiate a settlement.”
The hotels in the coalition are primarily operated by Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott, Aimbridge, Highgate, Accor, IHG and Four Seasons. There are also a few independent hotels.
Grossman is a partner at Santa Monica-based employment law firm Hirschfeld Kraemer, one of two legal firms representing the hotels. According to the firm, the hotel management has offered a wage increase of $2.50 per hour in the first 12 months and $6.25 over four years. Under this proposal, housekeepers in Beverly Hills and downtown currently earning $25 an hour would receive 10% in wage increases in 2024 and would make more than $31 per hour by January 2027.
According to Coordinated Bargaining Group, the union has not budged from its opening demand of a 40% wage increase as well as a more than 28% increase in benefit costs. Additionally, the union has put forth proposals that the hotel coalition views as driven by politics, including demands for a 7% tax on union hotel guests and publicly supporting a ballot measure to house the homeless in the hotels together with other guests.
“The union continues to insist on proposals that are not in the interest of hotel employees,” Grossman said.
The strike occurred at a time when tourists were vacationing over the Fourth of July holiday. The union was strategic about where walkouts occurred, coordinating picket lines outside properties in downtown and Santa Monica during the holiday because of the expectation of high visibility at those locations.
It coincided with the ongoing Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike. In an apparent show of solidarity between Hollywood writers and hotel workers, WGA members joined hospitality employees on picket lines outside downtown and Santa Monica hotels, on July 3.
Elected officials have also shown support for the strike. On July 2, Congressman Adam Schiff, whose running for the U.S. Senate, joined hotel staff on a picket line outside the Sheraton in Universal Studios. The Southern California representative called on management to “negotiate a fair deal.”
Some striking had been averted. On June 28, the union reached a tentative contract deal with its largest employer of unionized workers, the Westin Bonaventure Hotel and Suites in downtown L.A. In a statement, Unite Here called the agreement, affecting 600 workers, “historic.”