City Sues Striking Hospitality Workers

Attempting to curb loud and “unnecessary” picketing occurring in the early hours of the day, the city of Beverly Hills is suing hospitality labor union Unite Here Local 11 over actions officials say create a “public nuisance.”

In a legal complaint filed on Aug. 14 in the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, city officials are seeking to abate Unite Here Local 11 activity that has occurred outside the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills and The Beverly Hilton, on the sidewalk located at the intersection of Wilshire and N. Santa Monica boulevards.

The city’s legal complaint says protest activity occurring between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. in that area has caused “loud, unnecessary, excessive and unusual noise.” The city is asking for an injunction that would enjoin and restrain the union from “unlawfully making noise” at those properties during those hours.

The legal action comes as Unite Here Local 11, which represents nearly 15,000 hospitality workers across Southern California, has staged intermittent strikes at hotel properties across Southern California, including at two prominent hotels in Beverly Hills. In recent weeks, contract negotiations between the union and a coalition of hotels have come to a stalemate with no resolution to the dispute on the horizon.

The union has called for increased wages and improved healthcare for its members, which include housekeepers, dishwashers, bellmen, cooks and front desk agents, among other roles.

Rolling strikes have been taking place since the beginning of July after workers’ contracts expired on June 31. Strikes have since occurred at the Waldorf Astoria and The Beverly Hilton. Additionally, informational picketing has taken place outside the Beverly Wilshire, A Four Seasons Hotel.

The city’s complaint claims the union has employed “contract protestors” in the ongoing demonstrations. It also alleges that Beverly Hills Police Department (BHPD) and City Manager Nancy Hunt-Coffey have received phone calls and alerts from residents complaining about noise levels between 5:30 a.m. and 6 a.m., on or around June 15 and July 24.

Unite Here Local 11’s protests have included loud chanting, whistles, drums, horn instruments and bullhorns, the complaint says. On July 27, BHPD received a report “of battery on the [Beverly Hilton] property when protestors broke through a barricade and injured a security guard,” according to the complaint.

Less noisy but no doubt drawing the attention of passersby, the union has also erected a giant inflatable rat—which it calls “Scabby”—outside many of the struck hotels.

The city’s suit says officials have requested the union wait until after 8 a.m. to begin demonstrations—to no avail.

A representative of Unite Here Local 11 denounced the latest action by the city, saying it impinges on the demonstrators’ right to free speech.

“It is beyond outrageous that the city of Beverly Hills is using its resources to stifle the First Amendment-protected protest activity of low-wage, immigrant workers,” Unite Here Local 11 Co-President Kurt Petersen said in a statement. “These are workers who make its luxury hotels run and who are simply seeking a living wage. The city should be helping to lift them up, not attack them with baseless lawsuits.”

Pete Hillan, a spokesperson for the Hotel Association of Los Angeles, said the legal complaint was an inevitable outcome of increasingly rowdy and disruptive Unite Here Local 11 protests.

“Free speech is always protected. Violence is not,” Hillan told the Courier. “Los Angeles hotels count on elected leaders and law enforcement to uphold free speech and to condemn violence. Protecting communities from Unite Here Local 11’s unlawful activities is necessary. Without it, the union’s illegal behavior gets a stamp of approval— and only encourages more violence.”

Beverly Hills City Attorney Laurence Wiener was not immediately available to comment on the city’s decision to file a complaint against the union.

Last month, Unite Here Local 11 presented the city with a notice of intent to circulate a proposed ballot measure that would require a wage increase for hotel workers in the city. Hotel workers represented by Unite Here Local 11 typically earn between $20-$25 per hour.

The complaint marks the first overt action taken by the city since the beginning of the strikes. In a recent interview, the Courier asked Mayor Dr. Julian Gold about the labor dispute between Unite Here Local 11 and the coalition of hotels, and the city leader said, “We’re just hopeful they all come to terms soon.”