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Striking LA, Orange County Hotel Workers Return To Work, Vow To Strike Again Soon

‘The strike has been a huge embarrassment and the union doesn’t want to admit it’

By Evan Symon, July 6, 2023 6:15 pm

Hotel workers represented by the Unite Here union returned to work Wednesday following the three-day July 4th weekend strike at hotels in Orange County and Los Angeles County, with union officials saying that they are ready to strike again.

Negotiations between Unite Here and 65 hotels in both LA and Orange Counties have been ongoing for months, due to a looming contract expiration of June 30th. The union pushed 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 to combat the increased cost of living and to protect the firing of workers. Also demanded was a better healthcare and pension program as well as for hotels stop using the e-verify system to check on work eligibility, as the union said that it would only weed out immigrant workers. However, the hotels countered with a $2.50 per hour wage increase instead.

Despite voting to strike and holding demonstrations where Los Angeles City Council members Nithya Raman and Hugo Soto-Martinez, and Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles) were arrested, negotiations largely stalled and public sympathy for the strike failed to grow. Despite this, the union authorized a strike during the busy July 4th weekend when several major conventions were also occurring in the area.

Following the end of the walk out on Wednesday, union officials said that it was a success, saying that workers were ‘inspired’ and ‘energized’ by the strike.

“They felt inspired by what the striking workers did and they are more energized,” said Unite Here Local 11 spokeswoman Maria Hernandez. “Any of those properties across the region could get ready to go out themselves really soon at any moment. Picketing will continue at hotels across the region at authorized strike locations.”

Unite Here Local 11 President Kurt Petersen added, “It’s a strategic decision about where we are going to strike next, and many factors go into it. The fact that downtown L.A. and Santa Monica hotels were particularly busy with the Fourth of July holiday and a large anime convention downtown played into the union’s decision to strike at several of those properties first.”

The LA/OC Hotel Workers Strike

However, the hotels said that no problems were encountered by the strike, that all hotels were prepared to continue operating without striking workers, and that they would like the Union to return to the bargaining table, as the union has repeatedly been canceling meetings with them.

“If the union proceeds with more strikes, those hotels are well prepared to service guests,” said hotel coalition lawyers Keith Grossman and Ken Ballard on Wednesday. “We welcome our employees back to work and the end of the work stoppage. As we have said repeatedly, the Coordinated Group has not canceled meetings, only the Union has. We are ready to meet and hope Union leaders can focus on our employees and reaching a settlement and get back to the bargaining table.”

Many experts also noted that Unite Here was failing with their tactics, as the hotels have operated well without the striking workers, that they have failed to gain sympathy from guests and the public, and that they have been employing useless tactics, as the picket line has been crossed without pause by guests.

“The strike has been a huge embarrassment,” said Corey Fletcher, a former hotel worker negotiator, to the Globe on Thursday. “The union doesn’t want to admit it. Usually with these strikes it is a straight walkout until a contract is reached, but they caved after three days and said it was ‘strategic’. Well, even if it was, it didn’t work. They have succeeded in getting the media to notice them, but it has been diminishing returns. Even when a state Assembly person was arrested during a rally, it was only picked up by so many outlets.”

“Hotel strikes work with a straight picket line outside the hotel right at the legal boundary, shaming guests for going in by saying that they are ruining their kids futures or putting food off their table by doing so. Something that connects. They haven’t been doing that. Instead they have been loud, annoying, and more disruptive more than anything. People don’t like those qualities in strikes, so they really haven’t been winning people over.”

“They’ve also been intimidating in the exact wrong way. When the people striking all wear the same shirt or have the union logo plastered everywhere, people don’t like that and it is hard to actually see the strikers as people. Sure, they appear unified, but it’s hard to connect. They see them as just another group. When they wear regular street clothes and come out with the signs, they get a much warmer response. I’ll put it this way, all the successful strikes of the early and mid 20th century? Name one where they all wore the same shirt. You can’t.”

“Hotel management has been smart, always ready to negotiate, never canceling a meeting, and offering a compromise. If you’re a union, you know you are doing something wrong when more people like the management than you, and in this strike, Unite Here is finding themselves  there.”

As of Thursday, no bargaining is scheduled between the two sides, with the hotel group currently awaiting Unite Here to go back to the bargaining table.

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Evan Symon
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