LA hospitality workers strike for a fair contract

On July 2, thousands of union hospitality workers in Greater Los Angeles took to the picket lines after 96% of members voted to authorize a strike for increased wages and other deserved benefits. These 15,000 hotel workers across roughly 60 hotels are represented by UNITE HERE Local 11. By July 5, many workers returned to their work sites, but union messaging describes these walkouts as only the first wave since no deal has been reached. This week, another wave of workers across Los Angeles and Orange counties returned to picket lines. 

Members have been negotiating for months in anticipation of the expiration of their previous contract on June 30. In late June, prior to the expiration, 300 workers and supporters were arrested during a peaceful rally at LAX. Currently, pickets are taking place at hotels across the city where contracts are still unresolved, including the Ritz-Carlton, JW Marriott LA Live, the Beverly Hilton, Fairmont Miramar, Anaheim Hilton, and Four Seasons Regent Beverly Wilshire.

A necessary strike 

Workers are primarily striking over fair pay. UNITE HERE Local 11 has requested a $5 per hour flat wage increase immediately for all workers, followed by $3 per hour a year for the next two years. With that, a worker currently making $25 per hour would be making $36 per hour by 2025. Management has offered the same workers $31 per hour by 2027, leaving a large gap for negotiations. 

While the hospitality industry is recovering after the pandemic, very little of the pandemic assistance funds given to hotels made their way down to workers. Inflation plus rising costs of living in Los Angeles, which are particularly egregious in wealthier neighborhoods where many hotels reside, make it nearly impossible for hospitality workers to live near where they work. This issue is becoming ubiquitous in Los Angeles labor struggles. UNITE HERE estimates 53% of workers have plans to move out of Los Angeles or have already moved out within the last 5 years. 

Additionally, workers are demanding pensions and retirement benefits in contracts. They are fighting for safer working conditions and affordable family health care plans. These demands are possible. One of the largest employers, the Westin Bonaventure, came to a contract agreement with the union on June 28. In addition to meeting many of the demands listed above, they will allow formerly incarcerated people into hotel union jobs. They have also banned the use of E-Verify employment screenings which target and discriminate against undocumented workers. 

Hospitality workers on the front lines

The hospitality industry has been a hotbed for labor struggles in the past few years. In 2018, the Marriott Strike saw the previously largest hotel strike in US history. The strike spread to 23 hotels in eight cities. Over the course of two months, 75 workers were arrested before contract negotiations were resolved. In addition to demands for increased pay, a major demand of that strike was to increase safety precautions for workers against sexual harassment from guests. Workers fought and won access to panic buttons and the banning of hotel patrons with a history of sexual harassment of staff. 

These labor struggles have been heating up in Southern California for some time. Last year, on the eve of Comic Con, 600 UNITE HERE Local 30 hospitality workers stalled the Hilton Bayfront in San Diego. They received 20% wage increases with an additional $4 per hour increase over the next two years. 

A hot labor summer in Los Angeles

2023 is looking like a landmark year for labor action in Los Angeles and beyond. The Writer’s Guild of America, representing over 11,000 workers, has been on strike since early May. They are fighting for increased pay, access to streaming residuals, better staffing requirements, and safeguards against the usage of AI scripts. Soon, the WGA hopes to be joined by the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Radio and Television Artists, representing 160,000 workers in the entertainment industry. 

Los Angeles dockworkers, central to the functioning of the US economy, have reached a tentative agreement on a contract without a strike after months of negotiations. Graduate students in the University of California state school system ratified their contract in December last year after five weeks of striking. 

In March of this year, 65,000 Los Angeles education workers represented by SEIU Local 99 and UTLA went on a historic solidarity strike for a week. This ended in contract agreements eventually being met for both unions, with pay increases to catch up with inflation and better staffing requirements for support staff. 

When we fight, we win

These historic labor struggles show no sign of slowing down. Teamsters, a union representing 340,000 UPS workers, anticipates a potential strike as members vote overwhelmingly in favor. This would be one of the largest labor events in decades, likely grinding the US economy to a halt for the duration. 

Successful labor actions prove that the economy and industry rely on regular, working class people, not the other way around. Strikes force billionaires and capitalists to realize that their profits and stocks are tied to real people who are trying to survive and provide for families. The many historic victories of the last few years prove one more thing: When we fight, we win! 

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