Hotel workers can't afford to live in LA, consider July 4 strike

Hotel housekeepers, cooks, and servers represented by Unite Here Local 11 hold a demonstration in June. The union is threatening to strike this weekend if they don’t reach an agreement with management on a new contract. Photo courtesy of Unite Here Local 11.

More than 15,000 hotel workers in Los Angeles and Orange Counties could strike as soon as Independence Day weekend, if contract negotiations with employers over raises and benefits continue to stall. Their current contract expires at midnight on June 30. 

Non-managerial hotel staff, including housekeepers, cooks, and servers represented by Unite Here Local 11, voted overwhelmingly this month to pre-authorize a strike. 

Their demands include an immediate $5 an hour raise, affordable family health care, a pension, and safe working conditions. The raise remains the top priority, according to workers, who say they can no longer afford to live in the cities where they work. Housekeepers represented by the union make between $20 to $25 an hour, and the union estimates $39.31 an hour is needed to afford rent a two-bedroom apartment in LA. Unite Here Local 11 says 53% of the workers it represents have moved or are planning to move outside of LA.

These workers also sacrificed a lot during the pandemic and some even lost their lives, and now they’re facing inflation and unaffordable housing prices, says Kurt Petersen, the co-present of Unite Here Local 11.

“People just can't make it. People are angry because the hotels say they value them, [but] people want to see it in the wages and compensation and how they respect them,” he says.

On June 22, more than 2,000 people demonstrated in support of the workers, shutting down Century Boulevard for hours in both directions near LAX. Over 200 people were arrested for not dispersing, including LA City Councilmembers Hugo Soto-Martinez and Nithya Raman, and Assemblymember Wendy Carillo.

Since April, hotel workers have been at the bargaining table with local hotels across LA and Orange Counties, including Hyatt Hotels & Resorts, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, Marriott International, and luxury hotels like the Westin Bonaventure in Downtown LA and the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills.

The hotels involved in negotiations did not respond to KCRW’s request for comment. In prior statements to the media, Hyatt Hotels & Resorts said they are bargaining in good faith and are disappointed that workers are considering a strike at this stage in negotiations. 

In April, Hyatt and Unite Here Local 11 reached a new contract agreement with workers in the Long Beach market, which included a $4 an hour raise.

Negotiations come as LA’s tourism industry has largely bounced back to pre-pandemic levels. The City of Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board says visitors are back to 91% of 2019’s record-breaking pre-pandemic levels, and in 2022 tourists spent $21 billion. There’s also record growth of new hotels in LA as the city prepares to host the World Cup in 2026 and the Olympic Games in 2028.

Hotels would have to make some big concessions on wages for a strike to be averted, says Unite Here Local 11. Both sides were at the bargaining table Tuesday, but they did not have any other meetings scheduled before the contract expires.

The last large scale hotel worker strike occurred in 2018, when 8,000 Marriott Hotel employees in eight cities walked off the job for two months. This included workers in San Francisco, San Diego, Boston, and Detroit. Travelers were warned about limited hotel service, and several big conferences were canceled. Unite Here Local 11 was involved in those negotiations and workers won a $4 an hour raise and protections against sexual harassment.