Union hotel workers in Los Angeles have ramped up their fight for higher pay and better working conditions by calling on large conventions to steer clear of the city.
Members of Unite Here Local 11 announced the boycott Thursday, describing it as a “major escalation” in a battle with hotels that has rattled LA’s tourism industry. They want groups planning large-scale meetings to cancel or postpone them until the union has reached new deals with the hotels, or to move the events to another town.
“We’re asking them to stay away from Los Angeles,” Kurt Petersen, one of the union’s co-presidents, told HuffPost. “Tourism is the most important industry [here]. If tourism doesn’t pay workers a living wage, then this city will continue to collapse, and the housing crisis will be even worse than it is now.”
Rolling strikes began over the July Fourth holiday weekend and have continued sporadically since then, with walkouts by cooks, room attendants, dishwashers, servers, front desk agents and bellhops. Roughly 60 union contracts remain unsettled after expiring June 30.
Workers are calling for an immediate $5-per-hour raise to compensate for the region’s brutal housing costs ― a proposed pay boost that Petersen said would “relieve some anxiety about rent.” According to the union, a member survey recently showed that more than half of workers said they had to move in the past five years, or will have to move soon, because they can no longer afford to live where they do.
“If tourism doesn’t pay workers a living wage, then this city will continue to collapse.”
– Kurt Petersen, Unite Here Local 11 co-president
Picket lines have popped up intermittently since the strikes began, with workers asking guests not to patronize hotels with unresolved contracts.
The union has called for a boycott of three particular properties — Hotel Maya in Long Beach, Laguna Cliffs Marriott in Dana Point and Fairmont Miramar in Santa Monica — alleging that management had condoned violence against strikers. Video from outside Hotel Maya earlier this month showed a demonstrator being punched in the head by someone who may have been a hotel guest.
But until now, Local 11 has not pushed for a broad boycott like the one for major conventions. Pressuring large groups to back out of their plans downtown could squeeze the hotels, as well as secondary businesses that rely on convention traffic.
The boycott call extends to the American Political Science Association, which is slated to host a four-day conference at the Los Angeles Convention Center over the Labor Day weekend. The group said last month it had hundreds of meetings scheduled in hotels that could be affected by the strikes. The union sent a letter to the association’s director asking that it change its plans.
“We believe that unless the hotel industry shares its historic profits, we may soon have no option but to call a boycott of the City of Los Angeles,” the union wrote.
Local 11 said it believes hundreds of would-be participants canceled their plans for the APSA confab, but the conference is still scheduled to go on.
“We are in a no-win situation and understand that members may choose not to attend given the risk of a strike,” APSA told its members last month.
Meanwhile, the union said various other groups — the Democratic Governors Association, the Japanese American Citizens League and the Council of State Governments West — all recently moved the sites of their meetings or changed the dates so as not to cross potential picket lines.
Petersen said any guest staying at a struck hotel should expect substandard service and a picket line.
“If it happens, you might as well be camping,” he said, “because your stay in the hotel will be incredibly unpleasant.”