They moved their conference to this DTLA hotel to avoid crossing picket lines. Then 32 people got sick

Round towers at a hotel are seen from a car.
California health officials are investigating a bacterial outbreak that occurred at a union conference held at the Westin Bonaventure in downtown Los Angeles last month.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
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At least 32 people attending a union conference at the Westin Bonaventure in downtown Los Angeles last month were sickened from an outbreak of Shigella bacteria, according to California health officials.

Six of those people were hospitalized, officials said. The outbreak was first reported through an alert by the Alameda County Public Health Department, which is working with the state on an ongoing investigation.

More than 300 people from across the state attended the union delegate event held at the hotel from Aug. 21 to 24, the alert said.


Shigella spreads easily and is especially dangerous for those whose immune systems are weakened by illness or medical treatment. People can be sickened with the bacteria when they eat food prepared by someone with the illness.

Terri McDonald, a Sacramento resident, attended the August conference that was held by a coalition of unions representing Kaiser Permanente employees, which is negotiating a new contract. (Last week, the Kaiser unions authorized a possible strike.)

The coalition announced on Aug. 18 that it had moved the conference to the Bonaventure from the InterContinental, where hotel workers have been picketing for higher wages and better working conditions. When their contracts expired on June 30, workers at more than 60 hotel sites authorized strikes, which have happened on a rolling basis since July 4 weekend. The Bonaventure is the only hotel so far to have reached a tentative deal with the union representing hotel workers, thus avoiding the strikes.

Soon after getting home from L.A., McDonald began suffering nausea, bloody diarrhea, fever and headaches, according to a lawsuit she filed last week against Marriott International, which operates the hotel.

She went to Kaiser for treatment Aug. 27 but continued to deteriorate. She was hospitalized until Sept. 1, the lawsuit said.

McDonald said in an interview that she was so weak she couldn’t stand before going to the hospital. She was told by doctors she had sepsis and her kidneys were shutting down. “They were rushing to save my life,” she said.


The lawsuit claims that the Bonaventure served food during the three-day conference that caused the outbreak.

“The health, safety and wellness of our guests and associates is paramount,” a hotel spokesperson said in a statement. The hotel staff “fully cooperated with the necessary public health agencies” in the investigation, the statement said, and recent inspections of its food and beverage operations by L.A. County “resulted in A ratings.”

“Due to pending litigation, we have no additional comments on this matter,” the statement said.

Past outbreaks of Shigella have often been tied to child-care facilities. Infected adults and children can shed the bacteria through feces for up to two weeks after their symptoms have ended.

Many people infected by Shigella suffer only mild symptoms and get better without treatment. It can be life threatening if it spreads into the blood.

Shigella causes an estimated 500,000 illnesses, 6,000 hospitalizations and 40 deaths in the U.S. each year, according to a 2018 study.