By Jorge Casuso
October 23, 2023 -- The LA County District Attorney will investigate allegations that three area hotels, including one in Santa Monica, are exploiting "unhoused refugees" hired during an intermittent labor strike by the hotel workers union.
The allegations against the Le Meridien Delfina in Santa Monica and two hotels near LAX were made by Unite HERE Local 11, which is embroiled in stalled labor negotiations with more than 40 area hotels.
The District Attorney's "robust" and "exhaustive" investigation will look into "concerns regarding the alleged employment of unhoused refugees, particularly from Venezuela, to replace striking workers, notably in the housekeeping departments," the DA's office said Monday.
"We take these egregious allegations with the utmost seriousness," DA George Gascón said in a statement. "The mistreatment of vulnerable workers and their exploitation will not be tolerated."
The DA's office "will meticulously examine the hiring practices of hotel employers in Santa Monica and Los Angeles, with a specific focus on the alleged employment of unhoused refugees,"
The hotel workers union alleges that many of the hotel workers hired through a temp agency are staying at the Union Rescue Mission, a homeless shelter in on Skid Row in Downtown LA.
Some entered the country in Texas seeking asylum and were bused to Los Angeles by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, union officials said.
The DA's Office said it "will comprehensively scrutinize the circumstances surrounding the transportation of these workers."
This includes investigating claims that "some were dispatched from Texas by Governor Abbott, while others sought refuge in Los Angeles after fleeing violence in their home countries."
UNITE HERE Local 11 also asked Gascón to investigate "potential violations by hotels and their subcontractors of wage and child labor laws," union officials said.
"In one instance, a minor is alleged to have missed school in order to work at a hotel," officials said. "Some of the refugees reported receiving paychecks with little to no documentation regarding hours worked."
Immigrants who enter the country illegally and are seeking asylum or refugee status cannot be denied a job if they are qualified and must be paid for their work, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Once hired, they have the same rights as other workers under the Fair Labor Standards Act, according to the Justice Department's Immigrant & Employee Rights Section.
That often includes being paid for overtime work, asking the company to improve wages and working conditions and forming, joining and supporting a union in the workplace.
The investigation was announced the week before the American Film Market (AFM) holds its annual event in Los Angeles and Santa Monica starting November 5.
It also comes as negotiations between Unite HERE Local 11 and a bargaining group representing 44 union hotels in Los Angeles and Orange counties have remained deadlocked for some six months.
A series of intermittent strikes at many of the hotels, including five in Santa Monica, began during the Independence Day weekend and have continued, with temp workers filling in during walkouts that typically last no more than several days at a time.