Thousands of hotel workers across Southern California walk off the job

Southern California hotel workers walk a picket line
Southern California hotel workers walk a picket line Sunday in downtown Los Angeles after thousands walked off the job, demanding higher pay and better benefits.
(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

Thousands of workers at hotels across Southern California walked off the job Sunday, demanding higher pay and better benefits and beginning what could be the largest U.S. strike for the industry in recent memory.

The strike affects roughly 15,000 cooks, room attendants, dishwashers, servers, bellmen and front-desk agents at hotels in Los Angeles and Orange counties, including the JW Marriott in the L.A. Live entertainment district and luxury destinations like the Fairmont Miramar in Santa Monica.

“Our members were devastated first by the pandemic, and now by the greed of their bosses,” Kurt Petersen, co-president of Unite Here Local 11 said in a statement Sunday morning. “The industry got bailouts while we got cuts. Now, the hotel negotiators decided to take a four-day holiday instead of negotiating. Shameful.”


The union represents more than 32,000 hospitality workers across Southern California and Arizona. The union, which has been negotiating for a new contract since April, has pushed for higher pay for members — a $5 immediate hourly wage increase and a $3 boost annually for three years — to cover rising costs in the region.

The strike, which is expected to last for several days, is the latest labor effort in Southern California, where workers across multiple industries say inflation and high housing costs have made it untenable to live and provide for families.

More than 500 workers at the InterContinental and Indigo hotels in downtown Los Angeles were the first to join the strike, taking to the streets with picket signs at 6 a.m. Sunday. Workers at the DoubleTree by Hilton and the Biltmore Los Angeles downtown soon joined the walkout, along with those from the Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa in Dana Point, workers said.

Metro bus drivers and motorists honked their horns in support of the workers who had gathered outside the InterContinental early Sunday. Music in Spanish blasted next to a tent with doughnuts and coffee as strikers in red Unite Here Local 11 shirts checked in for shifts.

“I couldn’t sleep last night,” said Diana Rios Sanchez, a supervisor and former room attendant at the InterContinental.

Workers chanted, “Únete, únete — a la lucha únete!” (Join, join, join the fight, join!) as they marched on the sidewalk near the hotel entrances.


Attendees of Anime Expo — the largest anime convention in North America, which kicked off Saturday — passed the striking workers on the way to the Los Angeles Convention Center. Some waved in support.

At the InterContinental, staff cuts during the pandemic resulted in fewer workers doing more, Sanchez said. At the same time, healthcare and other costs have continued to rise.

“Before, we had 800 [people]. Now we have 500,” Sanchez said. “Now we’re basically doing the job of two or three.”

For the record:

7:16 p.m. July 3, 2023An earlier version of this story said 62 Unite Here Local 11 contracts representing workers at Southern California hotel sites expired Friday at midnight. 61 contracts expired.

Contracts expired Friday at midnight at 61 Southern California hotel sites where workers are represented by Unite Here Local 11. At least 17 of those hotels experienced work stoppages Sunday, including Hotel Figueroa and the Proper Hotel in downtown L.A. and the W in Westwood. Santa Monica hotels affected by the strike include Le Meridien Delfina, Hampton Inn & Suites and the Viceroy. Workers at Courtyard by Marriott locations in downtown and Santa Monica are also striking.

L.A. Councilman Kevin de León said he is solidly on the side of the employees. The son of a single mother, an immigrant and hotel worker, said he knows how hard the work is for this group that lives in the “lowest economic strata.”

“I believe that our city’s economy is built on the hotel workers. … They are the backbone, the drivers of our economy,” he said. “To many people, hotel workers are viewed as expendable in a job that nobody wants. And I believe that cannot be further from the truth.”

The union Wednesday evening landed a deal with its biggest employer, the Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites in downtown L.A., with more than 600 workers. Union officials described the tentative agreement as a major win for workers. Bonaventure employees will receive higher wages, affordable health insurance and increases in pension contributions. The agreement also guarantees a restoration of cleaning staff to pre-pandemic levels.


However, talks with other hotels have stalled. A coalition of more than 40 hotels involved in negotiations blasted the union Friday in an emailed statement, accusing its leaders of canceling a scheduled bargaining session and refusing to come to the table.

Unite Here Local 11 “has not budged from its opening demand two months ago of up to a 40% wage increase and an over 28% increase in benefit costs,” the hotel group said. “From the outset, the Union has shown no desire to engage in productive, good faith negotiations with this group.”

Keith Grossman, an attorney with Hirschfeld Kraemer, one of two legal firms representing the hotel coalition, took issue with the union’s support for certain policy proposals, including a measure set for the 2024 ballot that would require hotels in Los Angeles to rent vacant rooms to homeless people.

Grossman said the coalition has offered meaningful wage increases, proposing raises of $2.50 an hour in the first 12 months and $6.25 over four years. Under its proposal, housekeepers at unionized hotels in Beverly Hills and downtown Los Angeles, currently earning $25 per hour, would receive 10% wage increases in 2024 and would make more than $31 per hour by January 2027.

In an emailed statement Sunday, Grossman said the work stoppage “was expected.”

“We are fully prepared to continue to operate these hotels and to take care of our guests as long as this disruption lasts,” he said. “We also remain available to meet with the union whenever its leaders decide to make themselves available to resume negotiations.”

Unite Here Local 11 spokesperson Maria Hernandez denied that the union had canceled any scheduled negotiations and said it is pushing hotels to accept the higher wage proposal it made at the outset of talks.


“Workers won’t take anything less than that,” Hernandez said.

A substantial raise is necessary, workers say. Expensive housing in Los Angeles is forcing many employees to live far from their jobs, saddling them with hours-long commutes.

Brenda Mendoza drives more than two hours from her home in Apple Valley to the JW Marriott, where she has worked as a uniform attendant for 13 years. When she started working there, she lived in Koreatown, but rent increases forced her and her two sons to move away.

“A lot of the workers I train have moved away, because they’re not able to live where we are right now. The gas has gone up, and everything’s expensive,” Mendoza said.

A person hands fliers to people dressed in character outside a convention center
Union member Sean Johnson hands out fliers to Anime Expo attendees in downtown Los Angeles. Johnson, a member of Unite Here Local 737 in Orlando, Fla., flew out to support Southern California hotel workers in their negotiations.
(Helen Li / Los Angeles Times)

Bellen Valle, a single mother who works as a housekeeper at JW Marriott, danced along the picket line holding a clapper. She criticized the hotel for bringing in workers from temporary staffing agencies to do the work of union employees.

Amy Campbell, a spokesperson for JW Marriott, said the hotel has “well-established protocols in place to operate ... and take care of guests.” She added that the hotel is “committed to working toward a fair labor agreement.”


Peter Hillan, a spokesperson for industry group the Hotel Assn. of Los Angeles, said it is “standard practice” for hotels to hire temporary workers to ensure guests are served.

“I’m puzzled and confused about what Unite Here’s plans are,” Hillan said.

The strike is among a burst of actions in what California labor leaders have dubbed “hot labor summer.” Unions across multiple industries are pushing for pay hikes.

Hollywood writers have been on strike since May 2, and actors are in tense negotiations with studios. SAG-AFTRA members had voted to authorize a strike if their leaders couldn’t secure a new film and TV contract to replace one that expired at midnight Friday, but the union agreed Friday to allow more time to negotiate, averting a strike.

Hotel workers in California last staged a major strike in 2018, when nearly 8,000 housekeepers, bartenders and others walked off the job at 23 Marriott hotels in eight U.S. cities, including San Diego, San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose. That strike lasted more than two months before contract agreements were reached.

Hospitality experts have said the current strike has the potential to cause temporary disruptions for hotel operators and guests but will likely have little significant long-term service effects. However, prolonged and concurrent strikes of hotel workers, screenwriters and actors could have ripple effects on other L.A. businesses that rely on tourism, as film and television are an important economic engine. The California economy lost an estimated $2.1 billion during the 2007 writers’ strike.

The extension of contract negotiations will allow more time for the two sides to reach a deal that could avert a second Hollywood strike.

June 30, 2023

The hotel strike comes amid what is typically a busy time for the industry, as tourists flock to destinations across Southern California for the Fourth of July weekend. It coincides with the Anime Expo, which draws thousands of fans of Japanese pop culture to the Los Angeles Convention Center and nearby hotels over four days to celebrate manga art, cosplay and video games.


Justin Zellerer, who traveled to the event from Ottawa, said it was his first time seeing workers strike.

“I hope they get what they’re asking for,” Zellerer said. “I assume if they’re striking, then it’s pretty bad.”

Some convention attendees had heard about the potential for a walkout over the weekend and planned ahead.

Yohannes Laksana and Trisha Pei flew in from Austin, Texas, for the Anime Expo and on Saturday waited in the “weapons check” line outside the convention center’s North Hall entrance. Laksana sported a red wig, cosplaying as Diluc, a character from the action role-playing game “Genshin Impact.”

The pair are staying at a Hilton hotel in Pasadena and said that morning they found a notice that had been slipped under their door alerting them of the potential for a strike and suggesting that they request services ahead of time.

Laksana and Pei are considering asking for extra towels, just in case.