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Workers Strike at 5 Santa Monica Hotels

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By Jorge Casuso

July 4, 2023 -- Workers at five Santa Monica hotels remained on strike for a third straight day on Tuesday as labor negotiations reached a standstill at some four dozen hotels in the Los Angeles region.

Picketing workers at the Fairmont Miramar, Le Meridien Delfina, Courtyard by Marriott, Hampton Inn & Suites and Viceroy hotels were replaced by temporary workers during one of the year's busiest travel weekends.

The strike began Sunday morning, two days after union contracts expired on June 30 at 60 hotels in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

Several thousand cooks, room attendants, dishwashers, servers, bellmen and front desk agents walked out at 18 hotels after 96 percent of Unite HERE Local 11's members voted on June 8 to authorize a strike, according to union officials.

Union negotiators are seeking raises totaling $11 over three years -- an immediate $5 an hour raise and an additional $3 an hour in subsequent years of the contract for the workers, who earn between $20 and $25 an hour.

They also are seeking increased health and retirement benefits and the creation of a housing fund for employees shut out of area's housing market by soaring costs, often leading to long commutes from desert cities.

“Our members were devastated first by the pandemic, and now by the greed of their bosses,” said Kurt Petersen, co-President of UNITE HERE Local 11.

“The industry got bailouts while we got cuts," Petersen said. "Now, the hotel negotiators decided to take a four-day holiday instead of negotiating. Shameful.”

Representatives of the Coordinated Bargaining Group consisting of 44 LA and Orange County hotels said the union walked away from an offer to increase the hourly wage by $2.50 the first year and $6.25 over 4 years.

The offer also "guarantees continuing employees’ current quality affordable health care for them and their families and continuing to contribute to a guaranteed pension," the bargaining group said in a statement.

"In response to this meaningful offer, the Union canceled a scheduled bargaining meeting and has refused to schedule additional negotiations before the current contract expires, choosing political and PR stunts and strike preparation over good faith negotiations," the statement said.

Instead of focusing on its workers interests, the union is focused on its political agenda, said Keith Grossman, lead spokesperson for the Group.

“The Union wants to strike over growing its footprint, imposing a new tax on guests at only unionized hotels as well as housing the homeless in hotels," Grossman said.

"Insisting on and striking over these issues is illegal, profoundly counterproductive, and not in hotel employees’ interests.”

Local 11 officials billed Sunday's walkout as "the largest multi-hotel strike in the union’s history," while the Los Angeles Times called it "the largest hotel strike in modern U.S. history."

Starting on Sunday morning, workers held picket lines across the region, including at the Fairmont Miramar in Santa Monica.

On Tuesday, they marched from Le Meridien Delfina to the Hampton Inn & Suites "to highlight that they are part of one collective fight for living wages so they can afford to live in Los Angeles," union officials said.

According to a UNITE HERE Local 11 survey, 53 percent of workers said that they either "have moved in the past 5 years or will move in the near future because of soaring housing costs."

Survey respondents reported commuting hours from areas like Apple Valley, Palmdale, California City and Victorville, union officials said.

The strike comes as Santa Monica's tourism industry is on a steady road to recovery, with both the number of visitors and the money they spent rising significantly last year ("Santa Monica Travel Market Continues to Recover," May 19, 2023).

In a statement issued Sunday, the Hotel Association of Los Angeles said the "hotel community will continue to provide excellent service in welcoming guests to the Los Angeles area as we always do."

Grossman said the hotels are prepared to weather an ongoing strike.

“This activity was expected," Grossman said. "We are fully prepared to continue to operate these hotels and to take care of our guests as long as this disruption lasts."

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