Thousands of hotel workers in southern California walked off the job on Sunday, demanding higher pay and better benefits in what their union is calling the largest strike in its history.
Cooks, room attendants, dishwashers, servers, bellmen and front desk agents at hotels were picking outside major hotels in Los Angeles and Orange counties just as the summer tourist season is leaning up.
Last month, members of Unite Here Local voted 11 96% in favor of authorizing the strike. The union is seeking better wages, improved healthcare benefits, higher pension contributions and less strenuous workloads.
In addition, the union wants to create a “hospitality workforce housing fund” to help workers deal with the soaring costs of living in greater Los Angeles. Many employees report commuting hours to work because they can’t afford to live near their jobs.
“Our members were devastated first by the pandemic, and now by the greed of their bosses,” union co-president Kurt Petersen said in a statement. “The industry got bailouts while we got cuts.”
Contracts expired at midnight on Friday at more than 60 hotels, including properties owned by major chains such as Marriott and Hilton. The strike affected about half of the 32,000 hospitality workers the union represented across southern California and Arizona.
Last week, a deal was reached with its biggest employer, the Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites in downtown Los Angeles, which has more than 600 union workers. Union officials described the tentative agreement, which provides higher pay and increased staffing levels, as a major win for workers.
Talks with other hotels were at a stalemate. A coalition of more than 40 hotels involved in negotiations accused union leaders of canceling a scheduled bargaining session and refusing to come to the table.
Unite Here Local 11 “has not budged from its opening demand two months ago of up to a 40% wage increase and an over 28% increase in benefit costs”, the hotel group said in an email on Friday to the Los Angeles Times. “From the outset, the union has shown no desire to engage in productive, good faith negotiations with this group.”