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Threat of a hotel worker strike looms over Los Angeles on a packed July 4 weekend


Los Angeles, CA - Hotel workers and union organizers create strike signs at Unite Here Local 11 headquarters in Los Angeles.  The union is planning a strike that could be the largest hotel worker strike in modern US history.  The strike could start as early as the Fourth of July weekend.  Los Angeles on Thursday, June 29, 2023 in Los Angeles, CA.  (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Hotel workers prepare strike signs at Unite Here Local 11 headquarters in downtown Los Angeles. Marriott International and Hilton Hotels and Resorts are among the employers in talks with the union. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Would the superheroine Sailor Moon cross a picket line? That’s the question organizers with Unite Here Local 11 were asking Anime Expo attendees in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday during a packed July 4 weekend.

The largest anime convention in North America kicked off Saturday at the Los Angeles Convention Center, just as hotels across Los Angeles and Orange counties brace for what could be the largest US hotel workers’ strike in recent memory, affecting 15,000 workers.

Employees at more than 60 hotels in the region are poised to walk off the job after their contracts expire at midnight Friday. Anime Expo attendees and hotels are braced for disruptions. As of Saturday evening, the union had not announced a work stoppage, though organizers distributed informational flyers about their efforts outside the convention.

The union on Wednesday evening landed a deal with its biggest employer, the Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites in downtown LA, with more than 600 workers. Union officials described the tentative agreement as a major win for workers. Bonaventure employees will receive higher wages, affordable health insurance and increase in pension contributions. The agreement also guarantees a restoration of cleaning staff to pre-pandemic levels.

Talks with other hotels remain heated, however. A coalition of more than 40 hotels involved in negotiations blasted the union in an emailed statement Friday, accusing its leaders of canceling a scheduled bargaining session and refusing to come to the table.

Unite Here Local 11 “has not budged from its opening demand two months ago of up to a 40% wage increase and an over 28% increase in benefit costs,” the hotel group said. “From the outset, the Union has shown no desire to engage in productive, good faith negotiations with this group.”

Keith Grossman, an attorney with Hirschfeld Kraemer, one of two legal firms representing the hotel coalition, took issue with the union’s support for certain policy proposals, including a measure set for the 2024 ballot that would require hotels in Los Angeles to rent vacant rooms to homeless people.

Grossman said the coalition has offered meaningful wage increases, proposing raises of $2.50 an hour in the first 12 months and $6.25 over four years. Under its proposal, housekeepers at unionized hotels in Beverly Hills and downtown Los Angeles, currently earning $25 per hour, would receive 10% wage increases in 2024 and make more than $31 in hourly wages by January 2027.

“If there is a strike, it will occur because the Union is determined to have one,” Grossman said in an emailed statement.

Unite Here Local 11 spokesperson Maria Hernandez denied the union had canceled any scheduled negotiations and said it is pushing hotel companies to accept the higher wage proposal it made at the outset of negotiations.

“Workers won’t take anything less than that,” Hernandez said. “They’re ready to walk out at any moment.”

Read more: Unionized hotel workers reach deal with biggest employer on eve of July 4th weekend and planned strike

The union represents more than 32,000 hospitality workers across Southern California and Arizona. Its members are non-management hotel employees, including people who staff front desks, clean rooms and work in hotel restaurants.

Some Anime Expo attendees had heard about the potential for a strike and planned ahead. Alma Bermudes packed amenities so she wouldn’t have to rely on hotel services in the event of a walkout.

Several of the expo’s panels were to be held at the JW Marriott, one of the hotels where workers could walk out. An organizer with the union told Bermudes that if the strike went through, attending the panels would mean crossing a picket line.

“It’s understandable, and they have families to feed. They have a life and pay bills, and we should help support them. It’s unfair that we get luxury and they don’t get paid well enough,” Bermudes said.

Should JW Marriot workers strike, she said, she would probably forfeit the Anime Expo and “mosey on elsewhere.”

A person hands fliers to people dressed in character outside a convention center

Union member Sean Johnson hands out fliers to Anime Expo attendees in downtown Los Angeles. Johnson was a member of Unite Here Local 737 in Orlando, Fla., and flew out to support Southern California hotel workers in their negotiations. (Helen Li / Los Angeles Times)

The primary sticking point for workers is the demand for higher pay, needed, they say, to cover rising housing costs in the region. Expensive housing is causing many workers to live far from their jobs, saddling them with hours-long commutes.

Tensions flared Thursday at the Viceroy Santa Monica, a luxury resort, where union organizers accused management of bringing in temporary “scab” workers to staff the hotel in case of a strike.

Rocelia Morales, a housekeeper of 40 years at the hotel, said a group of about 10 workers who said they were recent immigrants from Ecuador arrived in the lobby Thursday, suitcases in tow. “The contract is still in force, so we told the company that we felt betrayed. We feel that they played with people’s feelings,” Morales said.

Housekeeping staff were tasked with setting up cots in some rooms, according to Unite Here Local 11 organizer Hannah Petersen. But when the management staff asked about the new arrivals, she said, the hotel denied plans to bring in temporary workers.

The Viceroy of Santa Monica did not respond to a request for comment.

Peter Hillan, a spokesperson for the Hotel Assn. of Los Angeles, an industry group, said that it is “standard practice” for hotels to hire temporary workers to ensure guests are served and that workers shouldn’t be surprised they’d be replaced if they threaten to walk off the job. Hillan said his group had expected the strike to begin Saturday.

“I’m puzzled and confused about what Unite Here’s plans are,” Hillan said.

The hotel worker strike threat is among a burst of job actions in what California labor leaders have dubbed “hot labor summer.” Unions across multiple industries are pushing for pay hikes.

Hollywood writers have been on strike since May 2, and actors are in tense negotiations with studios. SAG-AFTRA members have voted to authorize a strike if their leaders couldn’t secure a new film and TV contract to replace one that expired at midnight Friday. But the union agreed Friday to allow more time to negotiate, averting a strike for now.

Read more: SAG-AFTRA agreed to extend negotiations with studios, averting a strike for now

Hotel workers in California last staged a major strike in 2018, when nearly 8,000 housekeepers, bartenders and other workers walked off the job at 23 Marriott hotels in 8 US cities, including San Diego, San Francisco, Oakland and San José. That strike lasted more than two months before the contract agreement was reached.

Yohannes Laksana and his friend Trisha Pei flew in from Austin, Texas, for the Anime Expo, and on Saturday waited in the “weapons check” line outside the Convention Center’s North Hall entrance. Laksana sported a red wig, cosplaying as Diluc, a character from the action role-playing game Genshin Impact.

The pair were staying at a Hilton hotel in Pasadena, and said when they woke up that morning they found a notice slipped under their door. It was an advisory from the Hilton alerting guests to the potential for a strike and suggesting they request services ahead of time as staffing might be limited.

Laksana and Pei are considering asking for extra towels, just in case.

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This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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