Hotel workers near LAX walk out in second wave of strikes
Thousands of workers at hotels in the Los Angeles International Airport area walked off the job Monday morning in a second wave of strikes that has hit Southern California’s hospitality sector this summer.
Starting at 5 a.m., workers from eight El Segundo and Los Angeles hotels walked out demanding higher pay and better benefits. The list of hotels on strike include the Aloft El Segundo Los Angeles Airport, Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Los Angeles LAX/El Segundo, Four Points by Sheraton Los Angeles International Airport, Hilton Garden Inn LAX/El Segundo, Holiday Inn Los Angeles-LAX Airport, Hotel June, Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles Hotel and Westin Los Angeles Airport.
“Sheraton, escucha! Estamos en la lucha,” (“Sheraton, listen! We’re in the fight!”) yelled workers in red shirts at the Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles Hotel as they blew whistles and banged on an array of drums, buckets, pots and pans.
After contracts expired June 30, Unite Here Local 11-represented workers at more than 60 hotels authorized what could be the largest U.S. strike for the industry in recent memory. Not all hotel workers have walked out, per a strategic rollout decision made by union leadership.
The union represents 32,000 workers in the industry in Southern California and Arizona and has been negotiating a new contract since April. The union has proposed an immediate $5 hourly wage increase and a $3 boost annually for three years.
Keith Grossman, an attorney with Hirschfeld Kraemer, one of two firms representing a coalition of 44 Southern California hotels, has said the group has offered meaningful wage increases, proposing raises of $2.50 an hour in the first 12 months and $6.25 over four years. Grossman said the union has yet to respond to this proposal.
Hotel workers in Los Angeles and Orange counties voted to authorize a strike during the height of tourism season if talks don’t result in a new contract.
The LAX walkouts follow a three-day strike that predominantly affected downtown Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Orange County over the busy Fourth of July weekend.
“LAX has the largest concentration of hotels in the state in one block. It’s the gateway to the city. Those workers used to live in Inglewood and surrounding areas and they’ve been completely priced out and they’re heading more inland. The fight continues until we win a wage that will allow them to live here where they work,” Unite Here Local 11 co-President Kurt Petersen said.
Irene Andrade has worked 16 years at the Sheraton Gateway hotel as a room attendant. She used to live in Inglewood but moved to Ontario in San Bernardino County to be able to afford rent. Every day, she wakes up at 1:30 a.m to commute to the hotel, where she says she earns $19.80 an hour.
“I have a 7-year-old girl and I have to leave her. I hardly see her,” Andrade said.
Thousands of Southern California hotel workers were back on the job Wednesday after three days of strikes. Their union says more walkouts are ahead.
Lilia Sotelo, a room attendant of 20 years at the Sheraton, resides in Hawthorne. Although her three kids are grown, they have decided to live with her to save money.
“They are all grown up. But just like me right now, my children are concerned that even though they want to become independent, they can’t,” said Sotelo, who also earns $19.80 an hour.
The Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites in downtown L.A., the union’s biggest employer, with more than 600 workers, reached a tentative deal June 28 and is the only hotel that has averted a strike. The union has urged other employers to adopt that agreement.
“Our position is that the hotels can and should sign the agreement that we reached at the Bonaventure. Negotiations mean negotiating for less. They know what they need to do. The pattern has been set. They need to follow the pattern,” Petersen said.
Last week, the hotel coalition filed an unfair labor practice charge, accusing Unite Here Local 11 of bargaining in bad faith by striking over “nonmandatory subjects.” This includes a measure set for the 2024 ballot that would require hotels in Los Angeles to rent vacant rooms to unhoused people.
Clocking in for picketing that began as early as 6 a.m., hotel workers expressed determination — as well as nerves.
Grossman said the union is pushing to include policy proposals that “have nothing to do” with the employees it represents and striking over them is “not only unlawful, but it is also a real obstacle to reaching agreement on a contract.”
“I think they’re the only people in Los Angeles who don’t want to talk about housing and the cost of housing,” Petersen said in response to the unfair labor practice charge. “We’re going to talk about the cost of housing at the table ‘cause that’s what this is all about.”
Grossman said that the Coordinated Bargaining Group offered the union two dates — Friday and July 18 — to resume bargaining and has received no response.
“UNITE HERE Local 11’s intransigence and unwillingness to meet is hurting our employees and continues to damage Los Angeles’s reputation with tourists,” Grossman said in a written statement. “It’s clear that from Day One, Local 11 only wanted to strike and was not focused on the interests of our employees or the City.”
Union spokeswoman Maria Hernandez said no new bargaining sessions have been scheduled. “We’re consulting with the organizing committee to see what they want to do, but ultimately what the workers want is for them to sign the Bonaventure deal.”
The union last week filed an unfair labor practice charge against the Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa on behalf of at least one temp worker who was allegedly removed from the hotel’s work schedule after participating in the strike’s picket line.
In late June, Unite Here Local 11 hospitality workers staged a sit-out protest near LAX, which halted traffic on Century Boulevard. Nearly 200 protesters were arrested, including Los Angeles City Councilmembers Hugo Soto-Martínez and Nithya Raman and Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles).
LAX-area hotels serve as a first stop in the region’s tourism sector, which last year reached its highest levels since the COVID-19 pandemic pummeled the travel industry in 2020.
L.A.’s tourism recovery continues, with visit and spending levels the highest they’ve been since before the COVID-19 pandemic, but challenges remain.
There is no set end date for the LAX strike, but union officials anticipate the strike expanding to other hotels soon.
“There will be more coming this week,” Petersen said.