Thousands of L.A.-Area Hotel Workers Strike for Higher Pay

REUTERS/David Swanson
People protest in front of InterContinental Hotel as unionized hotel workers in Los Angeles and Orange County go on strike, in Los Angeles, California, U.S. July 2, 2023.

Several thousand hotel workers in greater Los Angeles went on strike Sunday over pay and staffing levels, in one of the largest hotel work stoppages in the region’s history.

The strike, affecting a number of major Southern California hotels, puts a strain on hotels during the Fourth of July weekend and as the area hosts a major convention that typically draws tens of thousands of people. Thousands of cooks, room attendants, dishwashers, servers, bellhops and front desk agents at multiple properties have walked out.

A core issue is compensation. The rising cost of living, especially housing, is pushing hospitality workers to move hours from where they work, said Kurt Petersen, co-president of Unite Here Local 11, the union representing the hospitality workers.

“Our members were devastated first by the pandemic, and now by the greed of their bosses,” Petersen said. “The industry got bailouts while we got cuts. Now, the hotel negotiators decided to take a four-day holiday instead of negotiating. Shameful.”

The walkout comes after the biggest hotel in L.A., the Westin Bonaventure, which has a staff of about 600, came to a tentative agreement just a day before contracts expired. In addition to the wage increases, the union is bargaining for guaranteed staffing levels, automatic digital tipping and the continuation of its strong health insurance plan and pension program.

The hotels unable to strike a deal include JW Marriott, Millennium Biltmore, Fairmont Miramar and Sheraton Universal, a union spokesperson said.

“For 14 years I saw how my mother worked as a housekeeper and fought hard to raise me. I am striking because it is my turn to fight for a better future for me and my son,” said Jennifer Flores, front desk supervisor at the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown.

The strike coincides with the Anime Expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center, which is sold out this year and runs Saturday through Tuesday. The expo typically draws more than 100,000 attendees, according to its website.

According to Peter Hillan, spokesman for the Hotel Association of Los Angeles, there were about 50 picketers at L.A.’s JW Marriott on Sunday morning. The Twitter feed of Unite Here Local 11 showed strikers picketing at the Sheraton Grand and the E-Central Downtown Los Angeles Hotel, as well as at the Courtyard by Marriott Santa Monica, Hampton Inn & Suites Santa Monica and W Los Angeles West Beverly Hills.

“Unite Here’s actions certainly add to the growing black eye of L.A.’s reputation as a destination,” Hillan said. “This really holds travelers and conventioneers hostage to Unite Here’s political agenda.”

“It’s critically important this weekend because of the anime convention,” he added. “This means the banquet folks will miss out on a lot of revenue and a lot of tips. The impact it has is not just to make political theater; it’s on people’s income.”

For those striking, the rising cost of housing is a pressing issue. In a Unite Here Local 11 survey, 53 percent of workers said that they either had moved in the past five years or will move in the near future because of soaring housing costs. Hotel workers report commuting hours from areas like Apple Valley, Palmdale, California City and Victorville to jobs in the city.

Diana Rios Sanchez, a supervisor at the InterContinental in downtown Los Angeles, said she is going on strike because she can’t afford more than a one-bedroom apartment in the area for herself and her three children.

“I’m going on strike because the pay we’re getting isn’t what we deserve,” said Rios Sanchez, 38, who makes $26.20 an hour. “In California, they’re building more and more hotels, which is raising our rent.”

Los Angeles will host the FIFA World Cup in 2026 and the Olympics in 2028. Union leaders say mega sports events of this kind have frequently displaced millions of poor residents permanently from host cities.

Southern California has seen a number of labor actions of late, including an ongoing Hollywood writers strike that began in early May. Meanwhile, actors and producers are locked in negotiations, agreeing on Friday to extend the actors union contract – which had been set to expire this weekend – until July 12 to avert a strike. And in late June, some 500 Dodger Stadium workers were poised to strike but stood down after they reached a deal.