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Los Angeles hotel workers strike: Companies, union remain far apart

By Levi Sumagaysay

L.A. hotel workers seeking higher wages and better benefits strike for a second day, with no end in sight

As hotel workers in Los Angeles struck for a second day Monday -- and with thousands more workers poised to join them in what could be the biggest hotel-industry strike in years -- the hotels and the union representing the workers appear to be nowhere close to reaching an agreement.

Workers at almost 20 hotels are on the picket lines so far, after union contracts expired last week at 62 hotels in the region. The workers, including housekeepers, cooks, dishwashers, front-desk agents and more for hotel chains such as Marriott International Inc. (MAR) and Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. (HLT), are seeking higher wages and better benefits.

Unite Here Local 11, which represents the workers, says the strike could affect 15,000 workers -- or about half of its total membership in Southern California and Arizona. The union also is asking for safer workloads, after more than 100,000 hotel housekeeping jobs have been eliminated since the COVID-19 pandemic.

A mother and daughter who work at JW Marriott Los Angeles as housekeepers said the mom works five shifts a week, while the daughter regularly receives just two to three shifts a week and considers herself "lucky" when she gets five shifts a week.

"Instead of putting more [people] to work, they give us a lot more work," said Maudi Marroquin, who has worked at the hotel for 13 years, through her daughter Eleida Manzo, who has worked at the hotel for a year and translated what her mom was saying in Spanish in an interview with MarketWatch on Monday.

Manzo, a single mother of three kids, said she "would love to work five days so I don't struggle" financially. She said she is counting on a new contract and a raise, adding that "it's really hard to try to find another job because we are on call" and must be available for any shifts the hotel offers.

Marriott did not return a request for comment Monday.

The biggest hotel represented by the union in the area, Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites in downtown Los Angeles, reached a tentative agreement with the union last week.

"If the Westin Bonaventure can sign, other hotels can, too," Maria Hernandez, spokeswoman for Unite Here 11, told MarketWatch.

The hotel workers make an average of $20 to $25 an hour, Hernandez said, and the union is proposing an immediate raise of $5 an hour, plus $3 an hour each of the next three years. The hotels are offering raises of about half that: $2.50 an hour for the first 12 months, then $6.25 an hour over four years.

Some experts are predicting the strike could be prolonged.

"The two sides are currently far apart on pay proposals, so it's likely that the strike will last at least several days and potentially quite a bit longer," said John Logan, a professor and director of the Labor and Employment Studies Department at San Francisco State University. He noted that the strike is taking place during "a wave of labor activism nationwide, but especially in Southern California" -- with an ongoing strike of Hollywood writers, plus previous strikes of the support staff of the Los Angeles Unified School District and a dispute involving unionized dockworkers in Long Beach and Los Angeles.

Keith Grossman, a lawyer representing 44 hotels that have yet to reach a deal with the union, accused the union of canceling a scheduled bargaining meeting. "The union has not budged from its opening demand two months ago," Grossman said in a statement. "We also remain available to meet with the union whenever its leaders decide to make themselves available to resume negotiations."

Kurt Petersen, co-president of Unite Here Local 11, said there was no meeting scheduled. He said in an interview with MarketWatch that the union gave the hotels a proposal on April 20, and that the union did not "see a single wage proposal" until 60 days later, on June 20. Petersen said it would have been tough to "wrap everything up" in the days before the contract was set to expire June 30. But he said "of course we're willing to meet."

The hotels are also taking issue with a union demand that hotels tack on a new 7% fee that would go toward creating a hospitality workforce housing fund.

"Housing for all Angelenos is the No. 1, 2 and 3 concern," Petersen said, adding that hotels impose other fees but customers don't know where those are going. "We want to get wages up. The other part is supply."

Marroquin, the longtime JW Marriott worker, used to live in downtown Los Angeles but has since been priced out and now lives more than 60 miles away in Palmdale, according to her daughter.

"We wish that all of us lived close," Marroquin said through her daughter. "It's important that we get what we deserve. Everything is really, really expensive."

From the archives (May 2023): Are Hollywood writing jobs the next frontier for gig work? Here's what a striking writer says.

-Levi Sumagaysay

This content was created by MarketWatch, which is operated by Dow Jones & Co. MarketWatch is published independently from Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal.


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07-03-23 1926ET

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