Los Angeles City Councilmembers Nithya Raman and Hugo Soto-Martinez, as well as Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles), were among the nearly 200 arrested at a labor protest near Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on Thursday. All three were charged with misdemeanor crimes by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) for remaining at a demonstration after being told to disperse.
The protest was organized by the Unite Here Local 11 labor union over a new contract for hotel workers in both Los Angeles and Orange Counties. Unite Here Local 11, which represents 15,000 non-management hotel workers in LA County and Orange County, first threatened to strike earlier this month. 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 among those working on negotiations. Some in the hotel industry have said the higher rental costs are not the fault of hotels and instead are the responsibility of the city to rein 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.
With contracts set to expire next week during the busy summer tourism season in the LA area and a strike becoming more and more likely, Unite Here members and others sympathetic went to the organized demonstration on Thursday on Century Boulevard nearby LAX, disrupting local traffic with demonstrators going into the street, as well as disrupting airport traffic. Leaders of both the union and demonstration on Thursday said that it was done with the intention of getting attention of the hotel industry.
“It’s an action no one takes lightly, getting arrested,” said Unite Here Local 11 President Kurt Petersen Thursday. “But folks decided it was necessary to get the attention of the industry.”
Soto-Martinez, who was an organizer for Unite Here before becoming a City Councilman, said before getting arrested on Thursday, “We were here to shed light on the issues working-class Angelenos face, like a single mother who works as a housekeeper needing to work 17 hours a day to afford housing.”
Demonstrators sat in the middle of the Boulevard for around an hour late on Thursday before being told to disperse. When they didn’t, the LAPD came through and zip-tied all offending demonstrators, including Unite Here members, around 20 members of the Democratic Socialists of America, and the three lawmakers. The protesters were then brought to a processing center, with traffic resuming afterwards.
— Hugo Soto-Martínez (@HugoForCD13) June 23, 2023
2 Councilmembers, Assemblywoman arrested in demonstration
According to the offices of both Council members, the booking was one of several for Soto-Martinez as he had been arrested on similar charges multiple times before. The arrest of Raman was the first time.
Unite Here said that the demonstration was a success and threatened more in the future should a deal not be reached soon.
“It was honestly just a beautiful show of solidarity for the workers,” said Unite Here Spokeswoman Maria Hernandez.
However, for many Angelinos, the demonstration was simply one of frustration, with one pollster taking responses finding that most people on the outside of the demonstration were more annoyed with the protestors rather than anyone else.
“All the demonstration on Century Boulevard did was piss people off, with a lot of that anger directed at the union,” Helena Gonzalez, an LA-based poll-taker, told the Globe Friday. “We were expecting, very broadly, more support for the union, but when you make people late for things, their sympathies for your cause go right out the window. Most were not happy about it and blamed the union for the problems. A few people we talked to, when explaining why they were doing this, just cut us off, said they didn’t care, and that they hoped the workers got nothing. The most common response was basic annoyance at the union, even after hearing why they were doing this in the first place.”
“Some were sympathetic to their cause but were mad at them for not doing this in another place, like outside hotels downtown. Pretty much no one blamed management or the hotels. And this really shows the juxtaposition of things too. Everyone just assumes cities like LA are fully union cities, but they really aren’t. When they pull off stunts like this or keep kids out of school, or cause major things to be cancelled, people tend to blame the strikers. Multiple people said that ‘smug grins’ of those protesting or those getting arrested in protests made them dislike them more than anything else. And again, many people were for the union and what they were trying to do. But the majority of people they were holding up out there on Thursday, they just didn’t like that and were against the union for doing it.”
“Unite Here can try and spin this as positively as possible as they want. But when you make people late for work or their flight or something important, you tend to not win many friends.”
The contracts with the hotels end at the end of the month next week, with an official strike possible as soon around July 4th.
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