On July 24, more than 1,000 cooks, room attendants, dishwashers, servers, bellmen, and front desk agents at The Beverly Hilton, Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills and Fairmont Century Plaza went on strike. The union representing the workers, Unite Here Local 11, also filed a notice of intent with the city to circulate a proposed ballot measure requiring a dramatic wage increase for Beverly Hills hotel workers.
“We’re in Beverly Hills,” Unite Here Local 11 Spokesperson Maria Hernandez told the Courier. “These folks, they’re the backbone of what make the tourism industry in this city what it is, and the hotels need to the recognize that.”
Beginning over the Fourth of July holiday, hospitality workers have engaged in strikes at hotels across the region, including in downtown L.A., Santa Monica and the vicinity of LAX. Until July 24, though, Beverly Hills union hotel properties had been spared from the walkouts. Labor union Unite Here Local 11 represents approximately 15,000 employees in heated contract negotiations with hotel management at 60 Southern California hotels and is coordinating rolling strikes, where its members could walk out on their hotel jobs at any moment. The workers’ contract expired June 30.
As of press time, the city’s other unionized hotel, Beverly Wilshire, A Four Seasons Hotel, has not formally declared a strike. However, informational picketing with no work stoppage has occurred outside the hotel’s main entrance over the past few weeks.
Representatives of the Beverly Wilshire, Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills and The Beverly Hilton declined to comment on the picketing outside their hotels or the current strikes.
On July 26, a highly visible march began at 10 a.m. outside the Waldorf Astoria, where Unite Here Local 11’s ubiquitous and giant inflatable rat, “Scabby,” sat on the sidewalk. As they marched, demonstrators banged drums, chanted “no contract, no peace,” and urged motorists driving by to honk in support. Most of the protestors wore red Unite Here T-shirts. Under the beating sun, protestors passed water bottles to one another and sought shelter under trees or awnings wherever possible.
Beverly Hills Police Department (BHPD) officers were on the scene to ensure public safety while simultaneously protecting lawful protest activities, BHPD Sgt. and Acting Public Information Officer Jeffrey Newman told the Courier.
Newman said BHPD “had approximately four calls for service generated from nearby residents reporting loud noises coming from the labor protest at the location of the Waldorf Astoria.” As the July 26 demonstration unfolded, BHPD alerted the community to the event’s impact on traffic.
The initial plan for the demonstration, according to a Unite Here Local 11 spokesperson, was to march down Rodeo Drive. That part of the program did not occur. Instead, the hotel workers walked directly from the Waldorf Astoria to the Beverly Wilshire.
Filadelfia Alcala, 36, a room attendant at the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills, was among those who took part in the demonstration. She’s a single mother who has been working at the Waldorf Astoria for the past six years. Every day, she commutes long distances from Willowbrook.
When the pandemic hit, hotel workers remained on the job and were considered “essential.”
“But they don’t treat us as essential workers,” Alcala said. “It’s hard living paycheck to paycheck,” she added. “With inflation, right now everything is going up. The only thing we’re not seeing going up are our paychecks.”
As he marched with the large group, Marcelo Vazquez, a steward at the Fairmont Century Plaza, said the rising cost of living in Los Angeles was making it challenging for hotel employees to live near their place of work. As a result, he said, “we’re fighting to get more pay. Hopefully the hotels will see where we’re coming from.”
Hotel employees at the three unionized Beverly Hills hotels—as well as the other hotels where employees are members of Unite Here—earn between $20-$25 per hour. Unite Here Local 11 has demanded an immediate $5 hourly increase, followed by $3 increases for the subsequent two years, for its members.
Coordinated Bargaining Group, which represents more than 44 Los Angeles and Orange County-area hotels, has countered most recently with an offer of $2 per hour immediately after contract ratification and another $1 per hour on July 1, 2024, for a total of $3 per hour in wage increases within 12 months and a more than 12% increase in the first year.
Members of Unite Local 11 voted 96% in favor of authorizing the strike on June 8. Only Westin Bonaventure in downtown L.A. has managed to reach a new contract agreement with Unite Here Local 11.
The union’s demands include better wages, healthcare benefits, higher pension contributions and safer workloads. It is also seeking to create a hospitality workforce housing fund and is supporting a 2024 ballot measure that would require hotels to rent vacant rooms to the unhoused.
On July 18, Coordinated Bargaining Group and Unite Here Local 11 met for the first time since the union began taking workers out on intermittent strikes. The bargaining session talks did not yield any progress in negotiations, according to representatives of both sides. It was unclear when another bargaining session would be held.
On July 25, Unite Here Local 11 presented the Beverly Hills city clerk’s office with a notice of intent to circulate a proposed ballot measure requiring a wage increase for hotel workers in the city.
The initiative would require hotels to pay their workers $30 per hour.
According to a statement from Deputy City Manager Keith Sterling, Beverly Hills City Attorney Laurence Wiener has 15 days from the receipt of the notice to provide an impartial title and summary that will be circulated with the petition. The labor union will then have to receive a minimum number of signatures, which is 10% of registered voters in the city. If successful, the City Council would then decide to either adopt the ordinance or put it up for a vote.
The petition gatherers have up to 180 days to submit the signatures from the date of receiving the title and summary from the City Attorney.