The Unite Here Local 11 union representing hotel workers in Los Angeles County and Orange County voted 96%-4% on Thursday to strike if a new contract with significant wage increases isn’t approved soon.
Throughout the year, economic worries and cost-of-living increases have fueled major strikes and near strikes all across Southern California. This included the SEIU school workers strike in March, an LA teachers strike nearly occurring in April, the current WGA writer’s strike that began in early May, and a possible SAG-AFTRA actors strike that could occur as soon as the end o the month. While some of the strikes have had more complicated goals in mind, all of them have boiled down to wanting more money.
Unite Here Local 11, which represents 15,000 non-management hotel workers in LA County and Orange County, became the latest to threaten such a strike on Thursday. To combat the increased cost of living and to protect the firing of workers, the union is asking for a $5 per hour wage increase across the board for all non-management hotel workers, with an additional $3 boost each coming year for the next 3 years, for a total of a $14 raise. A better healthcare and pension program is also wanted by the union, in addition to demanding that hotels stop using the e-verify system to check on work eligibility, as the union said that it would only weed out immigrant workers.
As of Friday, the 62 hotels whose contracts expire on June 30th haven’t offered any raises in their new contracts, with Marriott International, Hyatt, and Hilton Hotels & Resorts being among those working on negotiations. Those in the industry have said the higher rental costs are not the fault of hotels and are the responsibility of the city to reign in. They also noted that a possible strike would hurt hotels and the tourism industry even more, as the tourism industry is still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“A Fourth of July weekend strike would hold the community hostage and hurt the hotel workers by harming the city’s tourism appeal while the industry is getting back on its feet after pandemic shutdowns,” said Hotel Association of Los Angeles spokesman Peter Hillan on Thursday. “Homelessness and the housing crisis have already given Los Angeles a black eye and have deterred tourism, particularly hotels’ business from conferences and conventions. It’s self-serving and injurious to the L.A. community to consider a strike at this time.”
“Displacement of workers due to high rental housing costs is not the responsibility of hotel companies and rather is an issue for city leaders to engage in and solve universally. This is not specific to hotel workers. Teachers, construction workers, this happens to them also. We work as hard as we can to pay good wages and benefits.”
However, Unite Here has countered that the tourism industry is doing quite well and that workers need the raises to help live in the city. In the vote on Thursday, workers voted by a wide 96% to4% margin for authorization to strike if a new contract isn’t reached by the end of the month, as many workers were working multiple jobs and shifts just to make ends meet, with many workers also claiming that they never see their families as the result of the need to work.
“The union called a strike authorization vote to send a message to the industry that we’re very serious,” said Unite Here local 11 co-President Kurt Petersen. “We’re 22 days from the expiration of the contract and there’s not a single nickel that they have offered as a raise for anyone in any of these hotels. It’s a total disrespect for their workers who sacrificed extraordinarily during this pandemic.”
“Hotels haven’t reinstated daily room cleaning as a way to save money even though their industry is booming, which means our room attendants end up having to clean rooms that are dirtier because they haven’t been cleaned in several days, and there are fewer room attendants working.”
Experts noted on Friday that a possible strike would only end up hurting both sides, as a major shutdown due to the strike would harm the tourism industry and could lead to fewer hotel jobs as a result.
“You have to feel for some of these workers who just want to work a single job and see their family at the end of the day,” explained Corey Fletcher, a former hotel worker negotiator, to the Globe on Friday. “But hotels also don’t want another tourism downturn. You can bet that, with this threat of a strike now active, they are quietly looking for strikebreakers. And with so many migrants looking for work in LA right now, that might not be a problem. So Unite Here could be screwed if hotels play the long game.
“What will likely happen is a compromised cost of living increase, but for how much, who is to say. Neither side wants to back down. The union is fighting for the workers and the hotels are fighting to stay profitable post-COVID. Hopefully a strike can be averted though, because this is the last thing LA and Orange County need right now in the middle of the bust tourist season.”
Contract negotiations are expected to continue throughout June.
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