Hotel workers strike in Los Angeles disrupts holiday weekend

Inside the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown, a towering luxury hotel with a rooftop pool and soaring views of the city, Jason Hernandez said Monday that things seemed normal. Maids had cleaned his room. The lobby was tidy, if a bit quiet.

It wasn’t until he went out to meet metal security barriers outside the hotel doors and crowds of people marching, singing and beating drums that it was clear his holiday plans had clashed with a major strike by thousands of hotel workers.

Around 15,000 housekeepers, cooks and receptionists across the region walked off the job over the weekend demanding higher pay and better benefits. The strike, which began on Sunday, has coincided with a long Fourth of July holiday weekend, when thousands of visitors arrived for conventions, weddings and parties.

“On the inside, you kind of forget,” said Hernandez, 26, who was in town for Anime Expo, a celebration of Japanese animation, and dressed as a League of Legends character in a long brown loin cloth with a teal jewel on it. pan. “Then it’s like oh my god, all this crazy stuff is happening.”

Although Hernandez and his friends had decided to buy a hotel room for the expo, which drew tens of thousands of fans to downtown Los Angeles, he said he was not bothered by the commotion.

“I’m for it, so I don’t mind it at all,” said Mr. Hernandez, a public school teacher from Orange County, south of Los Angeles. “It’s hard to live, just in general. Everything works out.”

It’s a view that leaders of the union that represents the workers, Unite Here Local 11, believe is resonating — even among hotel guests and vacationers — in a region where workers say wages haven’t kept up with rent or the price of gas and groceries. .

“The support in the community is overwhelming,” said Kurt Petersen, a co-president of the association. “Workers making a living wage will make this city better.”

Outside several major downtown hotels on Monday morning, throngs of workers wearing red T-shirts reading “En Huelga” or “On Strike” mingled with groups of rally-goers wearing an array of colorful wigs, tiny dresses or wizard’s clothes.

Oscar Orellana, 30, stopped in the shadow of the InterContinental and waved back to one of the drivers who was honking his horn as he passed.

For six years, Mr. Orellana has worked in the cleaning department of the hotel, where he ensures that bed linen is in stock on each floor. His parents also worked for a long time in hotel housekeeping; his father was picketed at a nearby Ritz-Carlton, he said.

“I used to see my parents and they loved their job, which made me want to go into the hotel world and I love my job,” he said. But his three-hour round-trip commute from Long Beach, about 25 miles away, along with his heavier workload and inability to comfortably afford the occasional sweet treat for his 4-year-old, has made it “impossible for us to be there and work – that’s why we’re out here on strike, he said.

To the west, at the exclusive Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows in Santa Monica, dozens of workers sat outside the manicured flowering hedges lining the grounds. A few guests said the hotel seemed to work well overall, but were frustrated by small inconveniences — like a lack of clean towels — at such an expensive property. They also felt trapped in an awkward social position at a time when they just wanted to relax.

“I’m a union worker, so I can sympathize if they’re not being paid fair wages,” said John Smith, 38, who was visiting with his wife from San Bernardino.

But, he added, “we’re trying to enjoy the holidays – I took two days off for this.”

Just outside the property, on a street corner, a bride and groom posed for pictures with their arms around each other. A few meters away from them, striking workers wearing bright red could be seen marching and waving signs overhead.

The hotel’s management did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Most hotels have contingency plans and expect to be able to serve guests largely without interruption, said Pete Hillan, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Hotel Association. Major hotel chains, for example, have brought in staff from other properties not affected by the strike, or have asked managers to step in, he added.

In the longer term, a high-profile walkout on a major holiday weekend could diminish Los Angeles’ reputation as a destination for convention planners, business travelers and tourists, he said.

“Why would they come to LA?” he asked. “People are voting with their feet.”

The hotel workers’ strike is just the latest high-profile union action amid what California leaders have called a “hot summer of labor,” as struggles to afford skyrocketing living costs have created unusual levels of solidarity among workers across industries. , from public school assistants to dock workers to Hollywood screenwriters.

Teamsters and nurses have turned out for pickets outside the Hollywood studios, where screenwriters have been on strike since May. This week, leaders of the Writers Guild of America, the union that represents screenwriters, joined hotel workers in their protest.

Elected officials in Los Angeles — a Democratic stronghold where unions have amassed significant political power over decades — have also been eager to show their support for the striking workers.

Representative Adam Schiff, Democrat of California, picked Sunday with workers at a hotel near Universal Studios Hollywood.

“They should be able to make a decent living, decent wages,” Schiff told reporters. “I am proud to be here standing shoulder to shoulder with my brothers and sisters in labor.”

The union has called for hourly wages, now $20 and $25 for housekeepers, to immediately increase by $5, followed by a $3 increase in each subsequent year of a three-year contract.

Hotel industry officials have said many of the union’s other demands — including a surcharge for guests at unionized hotels that would go into a workers’ housing fund — were attempts to pin the cost of the region’s housing crisis on hotel operators.

Keith Grossman, a spokesman for a group of more than 40 hotels in Los Angeles and Orange Counties that is negotiating with the union, said: “Based on the union’s actions, it is clear that the union is not focused on the interests of our employees and its members and is in instead focused on its political agenda.”

Mr. Grossman said the hotels had offered to raise wages for housekeepers who make $25 an hour in Beverly Hills and downtown Los Angeles to more than $31 an hour by January 2027.

As the country enters a busy summer travel season, union leaders have refused to speculate whether the strike will last for days, weeks or months. But they said workers would continue to protest until contract agreements were reached.

Kurtis Lee contributed reporting.

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