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Union calls for a boycott of Southern California hotels without contracts

Hotel workers represented by Unite Here Local 11 picketed outside the JW Marriott Hotel in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday morning. After several tense and sometimes violent incidents on hotel picket lines, the union on Thursday calling for a boycott of hotels who have not yet reached a contract.
Hotel workers represented by Unite Here Local 11 picket outside the JW Marriott Hotel in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday. (Suhauna Hussain / Los Angeles Times)

After nearly two months of rolling strikes by hotel workers in Southern California, Unite Here Local 11 is calling for a boycott of some 60 hotels in Los Angeles and Orange counties that haven’t agreed to new labor contracts.

The union said in a news release Thursday that all conventions held in the Los Angeles area should "stay away from strike-ready hotels." The boycott will continue "until the hotel industry pays a living wage and puts an end to violence against its striking members," the union said.

Unite Here Local 11 had already urged that several major conferences scheduled at hotels where workers have been striking be canceled or moved to union-approved locations, with some success. Organizations including the Democratic Governors Assn., the Japanese American Citizens League and the Council of State Governments West have relocated, suspended or canceled their events.

Patricia Alvarado and Maria Del Carmen Trujillo carry boycott signs
Patricia Alvarado, 48, second from right, and Maria Del Carmen Trujillo, 57, right, both housekeepers at Sheraton Universal, were among the hotel workers represented by Unite Here Local 11 who picketed outside the JW Marriott Hotel in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday morning. (Suhauna Hussain / Los Angeles Times)

The union had previously called for a boycott of three hotels where violence had flared against strikers, including Hotel Maya in Long Beach, Fairmont Miramar in Santa Monica and Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa in Dana Point.

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Hotel workers have been walking off the job in intermittent few-day spurts ever since the long Fourth of July holiday weekend when contracts covering some 15,000 local hotel workers expired.

A $5 immediate hourly wage increase, and a $3 boost each subsequent year of the three-year contract, for a total raise of $11, is Unite Here Local 11’s key demand. Union members say they don't earn enough to live near their jobs and sometimes sleep in their cars between shifts at multiple properties.

The union lists the hotels without contracts on its website and asks that people “not patronize” them. Among them are well-known properties including the Beverly Hilton, the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills, the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles and the Sheraton Universal.

Read more: ‘Take your union and shove it.’ When your L.A. hotel stay comes with a strike picket line

Peter Hillan, spokesperson for the Hotel Assn. of Los Angeles, said the boycott could do long-term damage to L.A.'s economy, given that conventions are scheduled years in advance and may not choose to return, since the market is competitive. Other cities will court major conferences, he said, enticing them away with lower costs and a more peaceful experience uninterrupted by labor disputes.

"Local 11's demands today only add to the ongoing harm they are doing to the city of Los Angeles, our employees and the future of hospitality," Hillan said. "Union members will lose out on work, tips and opportunities, should L.A. no longer be a preferred destination for conventions."

Keith Grossman, an attorney with Hirschfeld Kraemer who represents a coalition of 44 hotels involved in talks with Unite Here Local 11, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The two sides have held one negotiating session since the strike began, but it dissolved with both sides firmly entrenched.

The hotel coalition filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, accusing the union of bargaining in bad faith by striking over "nonmandatory subjects" that aren't related to wages and benefits. This includes a measure set for the 2024 ballot that would require hotels in Los Angeles to rent vacant rooms to unhoused people.

Approximately 100 hotel workers and organizers with Unite Here Local 11 protested outside the JW Marriott Hotel in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday morning. Some workers were on their lunch break from their shifts at JW Marriott — they wore black uniforms, instead of the bright red union T-shirts the rest of the crowd had donned.

Cristina Betancourt, housekeeper at the Ritz-Carlton, said 80% of her income goes toward rent. "Our employers gave us no choice but to strike," she said at the rally.

Unite Here Local 11 co-President Kurt Petersen addressed the group, saying organizations could stand with "rapacious" hotel owners and operators, or show solidarity with workers. "The choice is clear," he said.

Max Arias, executive director of SEIU Local 99, and other representatives of organizations who had chosen to cancel events to stand with workers, spoke. Arias said his local holds an annual retreat at Hotel Maya; this year, the union canceled it.

“We moved our event twice, to stand with hotel workers," said Ana Grande, executive director of the Program for Torture Victims. "Move your conferences and gatherings to places that value hospitality workers, their servers, their housekeepers."

Peter Dreier, a professor studying urban politics and policy at Occidental College who spoke at the rally, said leadership of the American Political Science Assn. had "run roughshod" over the wishes of many of its rank-and-file members by refusing to cancel its 2023 annual meeting scheduled for Aug. 31 to Sept. 3. After facing backlash, the association announced on its website that hundreds of panels previously scheduled to be held in the JW Marriott would be relocated to the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Dreier urged professors and graduate students to cancel their plans to attend altogether. "It's a minor inconvenience that means nothing compared to the sacrifice you are making," Dreier said.

Dreier said those planning events should always ensure their contract includes a clause that allows cancellations in the event of a strike, without financial penalty.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.