By Joseph F. Hancock
Negotiations resumed on Tuesday, June 18th for the approximately 15,000 workers represented by UNITE HERE Local 11 and employed by some of the largest hotel employers-including Hyatt, Hilton, Highgate, Accor, IHG, and Marriott. This is the largest hotel workers’ strike in modern U.S. history, surpassing the strike by hotel workers in San Francisco in 2004-2006 by Local 2 of UNITE-HERE. More strikes and other actions by hotel workers could take place at any time. Most recently pickets have been seen at the large hotels around the airport (LAX) Hyatt Regency in Anaheim at the Hilton.
According to the union’s webpage, since the pandemic, the region’s largest economic engine, the tourism industry, is celebrating record profits while hospitality workers are overworked, fighting to stay housed and alive. During the pandemic, hotels received $15 billion in federal bailouts and cut jobs and guest services such as daily room cleaning. In 2023, hotel profits in Los Angeles and Orange County surpassed pre-pandemic levels. Yet hospitality workers struggle to afford a place to live in the cities where they work and are forced to move further away because wages are not keeping pace with the cost of housing. In a UNITE HERE Local 11 survey, 53% of workers said that they either have moved in the past 5 years or will move in the near future because of soaring housing costs. It must be noted that two large events are scheduled to be held in Los Angeles: the World Cup in 2026 and the Olympic Games in 2028. These two events are expected to bring windfall profits to the hotel and tourism industry.
UNITE HERE Local 11 has lined up over 100 contracts to expire this year, with the goal to lift the low standards of service workers, as the city of Los Angeles prepares for the World Cup (2026) and the Olympics (2028). Hospitality workers are ready to welcome millions to the region, and we intend to seize the moment to ensure our place in the economic boom headed our way.
Management has filed an unfair labor practice charge against the Union for demanding to bargain on issues outside of the scope of the contract because the Union is insisting that the hotels negotiate a housing fund for workers to be able to afford to live where they work. The Union is also demanding that the employers support the hotel ordinance being proposed in Los Angeles County where the county rents unrented rooms for the homeless at the various hotels that are signatories to the contract.
“Since reopening after the pandemic, hotels began to eliminate daily room cleaning. Our workloads have become brutal and take an even bigger toll on us,” says Rosa Paz, housekeeper for 23 years at the Hilton Anaheim. “We went on strike because we work really hard and deserve better. Through the strike workers from all the hotels are more united than ever. We are ready for anything, inside, outside, at the negotiating table, and won’t settle for less than we deserve.”
Yesenia Reyes, housekeeper at the Hyatt Regency LAX which is owned by the Southwest Carpenters Pension Trust, the pension fund of the Southwest Carpenters’ union says, “I feel more empowered now than ever to continue fighting for a good contract.” She continued, “As a single mom, I rarely get to see my six kids because I work two full-time jobs to pay my $2,000 rent and keep up with other expenses.”
Now consider L.A. rents: according to the rent research site, the current average cost of a one-bedroom apartment in the city is about $2,400. The average for a two-bedroom: $3,395. According to the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate’s forecast, those numbers will rise steadily over the next couple of years.
They are untenable figures, assuming the goal is for a worker to live anywhere near the property at which they’re employed. And the situation is no better in Orange County, where the Lusk Center is predicting a more than 7% overall rent increase by October of 2024.
Even with solid raises, the notion of affordable local housing is slipping further from the grasp of workers. An internal survey by UNITE HERE Local 11 found that more than half of its members had moved outside of Los Angeles within the past five years or were planning to do so in the near future, because of the cost of housing.
“Thousands of workers at 33 hotels from Downtown Los Angeles to LAX to Orange County
have participated in the largest hotel worker strike in California history,” said Kurt Petersen, Co-President UNITE HERE Local 11. “Our city has reached a tipping point. The wealthy continue to live in luxury while workers, from actors and writers to room attendants and servers, live from one paycheck to the next. This fight is ultimately about whether those who make LA prosperous and beautiful will be able to afford to live in LA.” This is clearly the class struggle up front with the Union in an alliance against neoliberalism, with workers and tenants united in struggle against the capitalists. With a common expiration date in Los Angeles, more power comes to the workers and their union. Capitalism yields nothing without class struggle because capitalism can only expand profits, nothing more. Only class struggle can lead to economic and social gains.
Background to the Struggle
Pattern or coordinated bargaining was used successfully in heavy industry for many years to negotiate good contracts. Examples of this type of bargaining are found in the entertainment industry, where writers and actors are on strike against the major movie and television studios, which are represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). Employers always resist common expiration dates on contracts with employees because unity at bargaining time brings greater success; it is, therefore, more revolutionary. The Teamsters, for example, used the Master Freight Agreement (MFA) in 1964 to negotiate the highest wages and best working conditions in the trucking industry. However, this agreement was destroyed in the 1990s following the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
In San Francisco in 2004 there was a massive strike affecting 14 hotels. It was hoped that the hotels in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. would also strike at the same time, making it the largest hotel strike ever in the history of the United States. But this did not happen. Represented by UNITE-HERE Local 2, the workers in San Francisco returned to work without a common contract that included Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. Finally signed in 2006, the new Local 2 contract put in place building blocks that made hotel labor much stronger in years that followed — coordinated bargaining, card check recognition, and civil rights protection balancing the needs of immigrants and Black Americans.
Currently, workers are striking only in Los Angeles and seeking money in the contract for housing. Workers receive good wages ($20 an hour) and benefits but must commute long distances to work because they cannot afford to live in Los Angeles. San Francisco faces similar issues, where families live together in small apartments to make ends meet. Imagine if all the hotel workers in these 3 cities were covered by the same contract with the same expiration date. That would bring real power to the hotel workers and their union, UNITE-HERE. That should be the revolutionary goal, to fan the flames of discontent and build a revolutionary movement.