LOS ANGELES — A spirited rally of 2,000 hotel workers took place on July 4 in downtown Los Angeles. Another was held in Santa Monica. Two days earlier hundreds picketed in front of the Intercontinental Hotel here They chanted “Únete. Únete. A la lucha únete” (Join. Join. Join the fight) and “Sí se puede” (Yes we can).
Members of UNITE HERE Local 11, the majority of whom are women, walked off the job at midnight June 30 at hotels across Southern California after their contract expired.
The union represents some 15,000 cooks, room attendants, dishwashers, servers, bellmen and front desk agents. They are seeking an immediate $5 hourly wage increase, followed by $3 an hour more in each of the next two years of a three-year contract. The union is also fighting for an end to hotel bosses using E-Verify, the Department of Homeland Security-run database used to deny workers without all the proper papers the right to hold a job.
“The main things are wages, better contributions to pensions, to maintain affordable health care and a safer and more humane workload,” Maria Hernandez, communications organizer for UNITE HERE Local 11, told the Militant on the picket line July 2. “These hotels have not increased staffing to pre-pandemic levels. A job that requires three, four, five people, they make one or two people do.”
An article on the union website reports that on June 29, a day before the contract expiration, the Westin Bonaventure, L.A.’s largest hotel, reached a tentative agreement with the union on wages, benefits and staffing levels that will return jobs and hours to pre-pandemic levels; increase contributions by bosses for workers’ pensions; provide access to union jobs for formerly incarcerated individuals; and ban the use of E-Verify in hiring.
Worker after worker on the picket lines told the Militant how difficult it is for them to raise a family in the Los Angeles area with the steep increases in rent, food, gas and other costs they face here.
“We’ve been trying to negotiate for the last three months,” said Emerson Aparicio, a 37-year-old cook who works at a restaurant on the 69th floor of the Intercontinental Hotel. “They want to take away our health care and benefits. They don’t even want to give half of what we’re asking for in wages.
“Many of us have to work more than one job to make it. Everything is so expensive,” he said. “We don’t want to be out here but it’s necessary. I’m doing this for my family and all my co-workers who have kids and need health care and pensions. We’re here to stay until we win the fight.”
“This is my first time on strike,” April Mendoza, a 30-year-old housekeeper at the Intercontinental, told the Militant. “I have to pay about $200 per month just to park my car in the hotel. I have a 14-year-old daughter. They want us to pay for health care. I pay $2,300 for a two-bedroom apartment. My landlord just raised my rent $150.
Down the street from the L.A. Convention Center at the E-Central Hotel, the Militant spoke with picket Juliza Duran. She has worked here for 17 years and cleans rooms. The bosses make us clean 10 rooms a day, she said. “They give us 45 minutes to complete a room. The bathroom is all glass and you get disciplined if there is even a spot on the glass.”
Duran said she is a single parent with three children. “The rent each month is one full paycheck and half of another,” she said. “You can’t survive like this.
Duran added she’s glad the union has taken up the fight to end the government E-Verify check on workers’ immigration status. “This is fight not just for us, but for everybody,” she said.
Latrice Longino has worked at the E-Central a few months, after several years at the Intercontinental. “It feels great to be out on the picket line, everybody except those not scheduled for work today joined the line as soon as the strike was called,” she said. Like several other workers, she discussed the challenge she faces sustaining and raising her daughter on her current pay. “I also hate the idea they make me pay for parking to go to work every day.”
The strikers need, and deserve, widespread support. For information on how you can support the union, go to the union website www: unitehere11.org.
Strikers returned to work July 5 — for now — as negotiations resumed.