“It doesn’t matter if you’re a writer or a hotel worker, this city is not livable,” said Brenden Gallagher, a television writer and 10-year LA resident who joined the Unite Here hotel pickets at the July 3 walkouts, to show solidarity and support. “Our fight is the same fight.”
It’s not just Los Angeles. What social media has labeled as a “hot working summer”, is flaring up all over the country. And it could set up a critical moment for the labor movement, which has been losing strength in the United States for decades.
Last month, the union representing 340,000 UPS workers authorized a nationwide strike that could have far-reaching consequences for the economy starting Aug. 1. Union leaders said strike preparations had moved into “high gear” after contract talks with UPS broke down after July. Fourth holiday.
More than 7,000 nurses went on strike in New York City in January, winning a major pay raise and mandatory nurse-to-patient staffing ratios. There followed a one-day strike by Kaiser nurses in Los Angeles who later reached an agreement that gave them significant victories and averted further work stoppages.
Meanwhile, Starbucks workers at 150 stores from coast to coast went on strike last month over allegations that some stores banned or restricted Pride decorations.
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Tobias Higbie, a labor historian and director of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at UCLA, said there have been moments in the past when conditions allowed workers to take a big step forward through organized labor action, including to address post-World War II wage suppression , and in the 1970s when young people poured into the workforce.
“That’s what’s going on here,” Higbie said. “The labor market is tight, everybody knows that, the workers in these cases — when we’re talking about Local 11 (hotel workers) and the TV writers — they’re all very organized … this is a moment you’re organizing for, to achieve what the unions would consider a transformation contract.”
The outcome of the labor actions now taking place in Southern California and beyond will be closely watched for what it says about the strength of organized labor in an increasingly stratified economy. A fight to unite Amazon in particular has big stakes for the broader movement, given the company’s vast workforce. Last year, Amazon workers won a surprise victory when warehouse workers in Staten Island voted to join the independent Amazon Labor Union.
Amazon has repeatedly appealed the results of that election and successfully delayed the contract negotiation process. In Southern California, delivery drivers working for a third party chose to join the Teamsters union in April, but Amazon terminated the employer contract. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post. Interim Post CEO Patty Stonesifer sits on Amazon’s board.
In the current labor disputes in LA, hoteliers and entertainment executives have defended their positions, with both groups accusing union members of making unfair demands at a time of rapid change and economic uncertainty in the entertainment industry and elsewhere.
The bargaining group representing the hotels issued a press release Thursday downplaying its criticism of the union’s tactics, announcing that it had filed unfair labor practices prosecution at the Norwegian Labor Inspection Authority.
“It’s unfortunate that the union is more focused on strikes and its political agenda than on good faith bargaining,” said Keith Grossman, spokesman for the Coordinated Bargaining Group, which represents the hotels.
Kurt Petersen, co-president of Local 11, dismissed the allegations by the Coordinated Bargaining Group as “frivolous.”
But workers on the streets of LA say they just want what’s fair, especially given how high home prices and rents have risen in Los Angeles. The median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles is nearly $2,600, according to real estate website Zillow, 53 percent higher than the national median. Housing prices in LA are also among the highest in the country, and the supply of affordable housing is shrinking.
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“My priority is to earn more,” Julia González said in Spanish outside the JW Marriott in downtown LA recently, where she and hundreds of other strikers dodged flamboyantly dressed people attending a large anime fair at the nearby convention center.
González, 61, earns $25 an hour after working for Marriott for 18 years. She works with domestic help and said it’s getting harder and harder to pull laundry out of the chute and push heavy carts piled high with towels and supplies.
“We need a higher wage because the cost of living and everything is going higher and higher and higher,” she said.
The hotel workers, represented by Unite Here Local 11, are seeking an immediate $5 raise, followed by three years of $3 raises and additional pension contributions. Workers representing 21 hotels in downtown LA and Santa Monica struck for three days over the July 4 weekend, but returned to work last week without an agreement. This week, several thousand workers with the same demands walked off the job along the hotel corridor near Los Angeles International Airport.
The thousands of attendees at the anime convention seemed largely unaffected by the strikes, which in many cases took place at the hotels where they were staying. A few mentioned that the strikers, who shouted through megaphones and beat drums – accompanied by honking from passing motorists – could get quite loud. Several conventioneers said they supported the strikers’ demands, but with hotel rooms booked months in advance for the popular convention, they didn’t see how they could change their plans. In some cases, they only found out about the strike when they arrived at the hotel.
“It’s unfortunate that it’s happening at the same time because we support them, but there’s nothing we can do about it … the hotels are booked solid literally months in advance,” said Risa Wiltsie, 30, who was in town with two friends, all dressed elaborately as princesses from Super Mario Bros.
The Writers Guild of America walkout has been going on since May, with well-organized pickets happening daily outside studios and streaming service headquarters on both coasts. The strikers have received support from prominent actors, who themselves may go on strike as early as next week depending on the outcome of ongoing talks. If it happens, it could have major consequences for Hollywood and would represent the first simultaneous strike by both unions in decades.
The unions have concerns over some of the same issues, including compensation from streaming services that have completely erased the format of what was once the standard sitcom.
“I’ve seen the stagnation of writers’ incomes and the corrosion of the business norms that make TV and film writing possible over a long career,” said Michael Sonnenschein, a longtime LA resident and TV writer who has stayed away from Netflix. and Paramount. “To me, the strike is about using our collective bargaining power to uphold fair wages and codify and restore the norms that everyone in Hollywood largely took for granted until recently.”
The Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers, a trade association that works on behalf of Hollywood production companies, said recently that the studios remain united in their desire to “avoid hardship for the thousands of employees who depend on the industry for their livelihood.”