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Workers demonstrate at five hotels, a preview of a possible strike

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - DECEMBER 12, 2018 Hotel workers from Unite Here, Local 11, demonstrated in fron
Hotel workers from Unite Here Local 11 demonstrate in front of the Beverly Wilshire on Wednesday.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

About 800 hotels workers demonstrated Wednesday in front of five high-end hotels in Los Angeles and Orange counties in what union leaders say is a preview of upcoming strikes if contract agreements are not reached.

The workers from Unite Here Local 11 marched, banged drums and chanted throughout most of the day in front of the Westin Bonaventure in downtown Los Angeles, the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills, the Fairmont Miramar in Santa Monica, the Hilton Anaheim and the Sheraton Park Hotel in Anaheim.

Some demonstrators were even serenaded early Wednesday by a mariachi band at the Westin Bonaventure hotel.

The demonstrations were described by the union as a celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe on the Mexican holiday in her honor. But labor leaders say the demonstrations also were meant to put pressure on hotel management.

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“This action was to make it clear to the companies that we are ready” to strike, said Andrew Cohen, a spokesman for Unite Here Local 11.

In a statement, a representative for the Westin and the Sheraton, both brands of Marriott International, said management was committed to maintaining positive relationships with its workers.

“While we continue to negotiate in good faith with the union to achieve a new agreement,” the statement said, “we support our associates’ right to decide whether to participate in activities protected by federal labor laws.”

Representatives for the other hotels could not be reached for comment.

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The demonstrations come only a week after about 7,500 hotel workers in Los Angeles and Orange counties voted 96% in favor of striking against 24 hotels in the region to help settle work contracts that expired in the last month.

Cohen said contract negotiations had been ongoing for months and would continue over the next few days.

The demonstrations are a sign the unions are ready to flex their muscles after nearly 8,000 hotel workers from other Unite Here chapters won what labor leaders described as historic contract improvements following strikes at hotels run by Marriott International in San Francisco, San Diego, Oakland, San Jose, Boston, Detroit and on the Hawaiian islands of Maui and Oahu.

Union leaders say a robust economy, strong demand for travel and record-breaking growth in the tourism industry have fattened the coffers of hotel owners but have yet to benefit the frontline workers, many of whom must work two or three jobs to make ends meet.

Workers have been calling for higher hourly wages, increases to pensions, more affordable health benefits and panic buttons to help protect housekeepers from sexual assaults when they are working in isolated areas of a hotel.

At the hotels in Los Angeles and Orange counties, Unite Here leaders say they are pushing to get workers hourly wages of at least $25 an hour to keep pace with the cost of living in Southern California.

In San Francisco, for example, where the cost of living is notoriously high, housekeepers who had previously been paid as low as $23 an hour won a contract that called for a raise of $1.75 an hour retroactive to the end of the last contract in August, with regular raises for the next four years.

hugo.martin@latimes.com

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To read more about the travel and tourism industries, follow @hugomartin on Twitter.


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