Thousands of SoCal hotel workers on strike after negotiations for higher pay, better benefits fail

Amy Powell Image
Monday, July 3, 2023
Thousands of SoCal hotel workers go on strike
Union officials said a recent survey of its members showed that 53% said they have moved in the past five years or will move in the near future because of soaring housing costs in the Los Angeles area.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Thousands of workers at hotels across Los Angeles County officially walked off the job on Sunday, starting a labor strike as they demand higher wages and better benefits.

The contract between the hotels and Unite Here Local 11, which represents up to 15,000 workers employed at major hotels, expired at 12:01 a.m. Saturday. The union had already reached a deal Wednesday night with the largest of their employers, the Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites in downtown L.A.

The hotels that are impacted by the strike include the Intercontinental, Millennium Biltmore, The Ritz Carlton, all located in downtown Los Angeles, as well as the The Fairmont Miramar in Santa Monica.

Hotel officials have told reporters their facilities will remain open with management and other non-union staff filling in the event that the union strike materialized.

In an Instagram post Sunday morning, the union said: "When workers rights are under attack, what do we do? STAND UP, FIGHT BACK! The #SoCalHotelStrike has started."

Workers gathered for a rally outside the Intercontinental Hotel after the strike was announced.

"Thousands of cooks, servers, housekeepers, bellmen, front desk agents walked off the job in the largest hotel strike in our Local's history," said Maria Hernandez, union organizer.

Workers say their workload has increased with less staff since the pandemic.

"Sometimes we end up doing the work of two or three people," said Dana Sanchez.

California Congressman Adam Schiff, who is running for a seat in the U.S. Senate, joined workers on the picket lines Sunday in front of the Sheraton Universal Hotel, offering his support.

"During the pandemic, we provided billions and billions of dollars in federal aid to this hotel industry, and those resources need to be shared with the people who make that prosperity possible," he said.

Eyewitness News reached out to the group representing the hotels for comment but has not heard back.

Meanwhile, Westin officials said their deal calls for higher pay and benefits.

Unite Here said that once the Westin contract is ratified, the 600 workers at the Bonaventure will enjoy:

  • Unprecedented wage increases to keep pace with the soaring cost of housing in Southern California
  • Affordable, excellent family healthcare
  • Humane and safe staffing that will return jobs and hours to pre-pandemic level
  • Pension contribution increases so that workers can retire with dignity and
  • Numerous improvements, including historic Equal Justice language that, among other things, will provide access to union jobs for formerly incarcerated individuals and ban the use of E-Verify in hiring.

"With these extraordinary raises, I will no longer have to choose between paying my rent and putting food on the table for my family," one employee, Nancy Cerrato of Westin's housekeeping department, said in a union statement. "We have given our lives to this industry. We deserve respect and to be able to afford to live in the city where we work.''

On June 8, 96% of the union's members approved a strike authorization.

Union officials said a recent survey of its members showed that 53% said they have moved in the past five years or will move in the near future because of soaring housing costs in the Los Angeles area.

"Hotel workers who work in the booming Los Angeles tourism industry must be able to live in Los Angeles," union Co-President Kurt Petersen told CNN.

Union officials said their members earn $20 to $25 an hour.

Negotiators are asking for an immediate $5 an hour raise and an additional $3 an hour in subsequent years of the contract along with improvements in health care and retirement benefits.

City News Service contributed to this report.