Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Hotel workers strike at five Santa Monica properties after negotiations stall again

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Hotel workers at five Santa Monica properties walked off the job early Monday after negotiations stalled last week.

Unite Here Local 11 — which represents thousands of cooks, housekeepers, dishwashers, servers, bellmen and front desk agents in Los Angeles and Orange counties — has been urging hotels to agree to sweeping wage increases given how deeply the housing crisis affects workers. The union last month urged convention organizers and visitors to “stay away from strike-ready hotels” that haven’t signed new contracts with more than 15,000 workers at some 60 properties.

Unite Here Local 11’s key demand for months had been a $5 immediate hourly wage increase and a $3 boost each subsequent year of the three-year contract, for a total raise of $11. Southern California hotel workers have been on strike on and off since July 2.

At the bargaining session Sept. 21, the union made a new economic proposal lowering that $11 total raise to $10.50, union spokesperson Maria Hernandez said. But the union said talks failed when, after a more than three-hour caucus, the hotel company representatives returned without any counterproposal.

Keith Grossman, an attorney representing a group of Southern California hotel owners and operators, said in an emailed statement Monday that the union’s proposal “only took the parties further apart.”

“Unfortunately, Local 11 made no real movement,” Grossman said. “The union’s offer, its new work stoppages, and its continued call for a boycott, which continues to damage Los Angeles and hurts employees, communicates that the union is not prepared to bargain in good faith. We believe it’s time for the union to engage in real negotiations.”

The bargaining session was the first to be held in nine weeks, he said.

Grossman did not respond to questions about specific issues that cropped up in bargaining.

Grossman has repeatedly criticized the union for failing to reach out and resume talks. The union has said it is firm on its wage proposal and that the hotel bargaining group’s wage offers have fallen far short.

Peter Hillan, spokesperson for the Hotel Assn. of Los Angeles, said the proposal, from the perspective of hotel owners, was a step back because the union moved up the start date of hotel contributions to a health and welfare fund by one month, increasing the overall cost of the contract. “That’s a takeaway from where we were earlier,” Hillan said.

German Martinez, who, the union alleged in a labor complaint, was among workers tackled at a picket line in August at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows, said in a union news release Monday morning that “it was disrespectful to see our employer not even address or apologize to us, and instead come back with no offer.”

Martinez has been a dishwasher at the Fairmont Miramar for 34 years. “We will do what we have to do until we get the fair contract we deserve,” he said.

Although workers authorized a strike earlier this summer, they aren’t walking off the job at all properties at once. Instead, they are engaged in rolling work stoppages in which workers at a cluster of hotels walk out for a few days at a time.

Unite Here Local 11 officials have described it as a “strategic decision” to “keep the hotels on their toes and guessing.” The approach also helps the workers’ finances.

It’s a strategy the United Auto Workers union has also adopted, when its members walked out on Detroit’s car companies last week. Some have drawn comparisons between the autoworkers’ action and a tactic by the Assn. of Flight Attendants in 1993, when the union used limited but unpredictable strikes rather than a mass work stoppage.

The Westin Bonaventure is the only hotel so far to have reached a tentative deal, averting a strike just as contracts were set to expire June 30.

Here is a list of Santa Monica hotels where workers are on strike:

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