Striking Los Angeles hotel staffers return to work, more walkouts threatened


By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Thousands of Los Angeles-area hotel staffers returned to work on Wednesday from a three-day strike without a contract, but union leaders threatened further walkouts to come as they push for improved wages, benefits and working conditions.

Chief among their demands are pay hikes that would allow the union’s 15,000 Southern California members to afford to live within a reasonable commuting distance of their workplace in a region where high housing costs make that tough for low-wage earners.

Several thousand hotel workers represented by Unite Here Local 11 walked off the job on Sunday in a strike that union officials said spread to 19 hotels in Los Angeles and Orange counties in the midst of the July Fourth holiday weekend.

The strike encompassed housekeepers, dishwashers, cooks, waiters, bellhops and front-desk agents,

A Unite Here spokesperson, Maria Hernandez, said the picketers were all back on the job as of Wednesday morning, ending for now one of the largest work stoppages to hit the U.S. hospitality industry in recent years.

But any of the 41 other hotels in the region whose labor contracts also expired on June 30 could be targeted in the next strike “wave,” which could come “at any moment,” Hernandez said.

Unite Here urged all 60 hotels involved in the dispute to agree to the terms reached in a settlement last week with the union’s largest employer, the Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites in downtown Los Angeles, achieving labor peace there.

“We know the industry can do this,” Hernandez said. “If the Westin Bonaventure can give the workers what they need, these other hotels can follow suit.”

The Westin Bonaventure’s workforce accounts for about 600 of the union local’s rank-and-file.

The hotels’ Coordinated Bargaining Group issued a statement welcoming its employees back to work “and the end of the work stoppages,” adding that management was prepared to keep their properties open to guests in the event of further disruptions.

The hotel owners have accused the union of political posturing, pursuing the strike as an organizing tool and failing to negotiate in good faith.

No further negotiating sessions were scheduled, and both sides blame the other for the breakoff of talks last Wednesday.

The hotel labor clash comes as the busy summer travel season goes into high gear, and overlaps with a Hollywood screenwriters strike in its ninth week, already taking a toll on the Los Angeles economy and showbiz production.

The union said its workers earn $20 to $25 an hour and is demanding an immediate increase of $5 an hour and an additional $3 an hour in subsequent years of the contract, plus improved healthcare and retirement benefits.

Both the union and management said the hotel group has proposed wage hikes of $2.50 an hour in the first 12 months and $6.25 over four years for most workers. Wages for housekeepers in Beverly Hills and downtown Los Angeles who currently earn $25 an hour would rise 10% next year and to more than $31 by 2027, under the industry offer.

Unite Here also seeks creation of a workforce housing fund to be paid for by a new 7% tax on guests staying at unionized hotels, as well as improved healthcare and retirement benefits and a reduction of workloads.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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