Hotel workers demanding higher wages and improved healthcare benefits engaged in demonstrations outside the Beverly Hilton and Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills this week, while walkouts occurred at hotel properties across Southern California.
While Beverly Hills’ unionized hotels have not experienced work stoppages, the “informational picketing” did take place at two of the city’s three unionized hotels.
On July 9, a demonstrator outside the Waldorf Astoria carried a sign that read, “No contract, no peace.” On July 11 and 12, individuals outside the hotel’s front entrance were banging drums, again holding up “No contract, no peace” signs and chanting demands for better pay as they marched around the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills’ valet area.
Dario Serpa, 61, has worked as a dishwasher at the Waldorf Astoria for the past five years. On July 12, before his 5 p.m. shift at the hotel began, he was among those protesting outside the Waldorf. He lives in Sherman Oaks with two of his sisters and said his and his colleagues’ wages—about $25 per hour—were not enough to afford living in Los Angeles.
He spoke to the Courier in a phone interview, with a Unite Here Local 11 organizing director translating for him.
“I am protesting and fighting so I can have fair wage increases,” Serpa told the Courier. “The cost of living is going up; living in LA is very expensive; we have to live far away to afford the cost of living after the pandemic. For many reasons, inflation has increased the cost of living here, and I’m fighting for better wages.”
While no walkouts—or work stoppages—had occurred at Beverly Hills hotels as of press time, a strike at Beverly Hills hotels could happen any day, according to Unite Here Local 11 spokesperson Maria Hernandez.
The activity is occurring amidst heated contract negotiations between labor union Unite Here Local 11 and a coalition of approximately 60 hotels in Los Angeles and Orange Counties. Over the Fourth of July holiday, from July 2-4, Unite Here Local 11 organized a three-day strike at hotels across Southern California, with thousands of hotel employees, including cooks, room attendants, dishwashers, servers, bellmen, and front-desk agents, walking off the job.
Unite Here Local 11 described the July 2-4 walkouts as the “first wave” of hotel strikes. A “second wave” of strikes occurred at union hotels in the LAX area on July 11.
The union represents some 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. The union’s membership is seeking 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.
The union has called the strike 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 two subsequent years of their contract along with improved healthcare and retirement benefits.
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.
Management at the Beverly Hills hotels declined to comment on the recent picketing, referring the Courier to the attorneys representing the hotels’ Coordinated Bargaining Group, which is negotiating on behalf of 44 unionized Los Angeles and Orange County hotels.
Attorney Keith Grossman is the lead spokesperson for the Coordinated Bargaining Group and a partner at Santa Monica-based employment law firm Hirschfeld Kraemer, one of two legal firms representing the hotels. He told the Courier that the picketing amounts to a “walk and work.” He suggested the unions have had difficulty getting enough people for these actions. Historically, he added, such actions have included paid picketers.
He said the tactic is noisy but ultimately ineffective.
“It’s a way to get their message out,” Grossman said in a phone interview. “They’re trying to communicate they’re serious. They’d be better served back at the bargaining table getting to a deal.”