Staff cuts, long commutes, rising costs: Hotel workers say they simply can’t keep up

Hotel workers picket in front of the Intercontinental Hotel.
Hotel workers picket in front of the Intercontinental Hotel on Sunday in downtown.
(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

Thousands of Southern California hotel workers took to picket lines Sunday, wearing red union T-shirts and chanting for others to join their fight for better wages and benefits in a region they say has become increasingly unaffordable.

“I couldn’t sleep last night,” said Diana Rios Sanchez, a supervisor and former room attendant at the InterContinental in downtown Los Angeles, where picketing started as early as 6 a.m.

For the record:

10:28 p.m. July 3, 2023An earlier version of this story said 62 contracts for workers represented by Unite Here Local 11 at Southern California hotel sites expired Friday at midnight. Sixty-one contracts expired.

At midnight on Friday, contracts expired at 61 regional hotel sites where non-management employees, including front-desk staff and those who work in restaurants and clean rooms, are represented by Unite Here Local 11. More than 32,000 hospitality workers across Southern California and Arizona are represented by the union.

Sanchez said pandemic staff cuts mean there are hundreds of fewer workers at the hotel where she works. Employees are “now basically doing the job of two or three,” she said.


With hotels packed for the holiday weekend and the Anime Expo in full swing, a massive strike gets underway in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

July 2, 2023

Rising housing costs in Los Angeles have forced workers to move farther from their jobs. Brenda Mendoza, a uniform attendant at the JW Marriott, drives two hours from Apple Valley to get to work and says she’s not alone.

“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.

The union is demanding a $5 immediate hourly wage increase and a $3 boost each subsequent year of the three-year contract, for a total of $11. The union has also made proposals related to healthcare, pensions, workload and a policy against the use of E-Verify, a federal system for checking employment eligibility, to protect immigrant workers.

Seventeen hotels across Los Angeles and Orange counties were experiencing work stoppages Sunday. Workers chanted, “Únete, únete — a la lucha únete!” (Join, join, join the fight, join!) as they marched outside hotels downtown.

At the Sheraton Hotel near Universal Studios, pizzas arrived in the afternoon for strikers, some of whom brought their kids along.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), who is running for U.S. Senate, joined the picket line at the Sheraton along with state Sen. María Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles), who served as Unite Here Local 11 chapter president from 1989 to 2006.

As Los Angeles and Orange counties brace for the largest U.S. hotel worker strike in recent memory, one downtown L.A. hotel has struck a tentative deal with the union representing its employees.

June 29, 2023

“These workers,” Schiff said, “ought to be able to live somewhere near where they work and have decent wages and healthcare, and retirement that they can make a living on.”


The congressman said those who “serve us whenever we stay in hotels are at risk of homelessness on any day of the week. We just need to make sure the economy is working for everyone.”

Durazo says the hotel industry needs “to step up” to support workers. “It may hurt them, but it hurts the workers far more.”

A housekeeper at the Viceroy Santa Monica expressed anger with management, who brought in temporary workers Thursday in case of a work stoppage, she said, noting that about 10 recent immigrants arrived, suitcases in tow.

The contract was “still in force,” said the hotel housekeeper of 40 years. “We told the company that we felt betrayed.”

Wilson Medina works two jobs: as a houseman at the Sheraton Universal Hotel and as a mechanic. He’s also a new father: Three weeks ago, his son was born prematurely and had to spend time in the neonatal intensive care unit.

Noting that looming hospital bill, Medina said better healthcare is one of the main reasons he walked off the job. He hopes contract negotiations lead to more affordable benefits for his family.


“I know I’m not the only new father or new parent dealing with this,” he said.

The strike is the second major action staged by the union in recent weeks. On June 22, Unite Here Local 11 gathered hundreds of demonstrators on Century Boulevard near Los Angeles International Airport to bring attention to the issue of low-paid tourism workers being priced out of the area.

City Councilmembers Hugo Soto-Martínez and Nithya Raman and Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles) were among scores of people arrested while participating in the demonstration.