Hotel, union negotiation fails to break stalemate; more walkouts ahead, union vows

Hotel, union negotiation fails to break stalemate;  more walkouts ahead, union vows
SANTA MONICA, CA - JULY 12, 2023 - Jose Ayala, 66, left, walks the picket line with fellow Unite Here Local 11 hotel workers in front of the Viceroy Hotel in Santa Monica on July 12, 2023. Ayala works as a dishwasher for the Viceroy Hotel and has to work a second job to make ends meet.  Some older hotel workers scrape by on their income and can't afford to quit.  Some work two jobs just to make ends meet.  Unite Here Local 11 hotel employees have been striking for higher pay and better benefits.  (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

The union representing thousands of striking hotel workers in Southern California vowed more walkouts like those that have intermittently hit several hotels, including the Viceroy Hotel in Santa Monica on July 12. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Tensions rose Tuesday between the Southern California hotel operators and their striking workers during the first bargaining session since intermittent walkouts beginning July 1. Hotel representatives accused the union of failing to bargain in good faith, and Unite Here Local 11 vowed more strikes at hotels across Los Angeles and Orange counties.

Meanwhile, the labor unrest has cost targeted hotels for some major businesses.

A hotel industry group introduced a new contract proposal during negotiations at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites in downtown Los Angeles, the only hotel that has reached a deal so far and avoided strikes among the more than 60 targeted hotel sites within the Unite Here Local 11 membership area in Southern California.

Keith Grossman, an attorney representing a coalition of 44 Southern California hotels, said that the proposal represented an improved wage offer, but it was rejected by the union.

“The union made no counteroffer. We are extremely disappointed that Local 11 refuses to bargain in good faith,” Grossman said in a statement. “Local 11 continues to signal that it is more interested in its political agenda than negotiating to reach an agreement.”

But Kurt Petersen, co-president of Unite Here Local 11, said that the new wage proposal “moved backwards” and that hotel representatives “walked out” of the bargaining session.

Read more:Dangerous heat wave during ‘hot labor summer’ — how picketing workers brave the sun

The session ended abruptly, Petersen said, after the union put forth a new proposal that required employers to offer permanent jobs to replace workers brought in during the strike. Unite 11 has been accused of hotels such as the Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa and Fairfield Inn & Suites in El Segundo of failing to hire Black workers as full-time employees while bringing in Black workers as replacement labor.

Contracts covering some 15,000 hotel workers expired on June 30. The union mounted a brief strike during the Fourth of July holiday weekend in downtown Los Angeles, followed by others near Los Angeles International Airport and Disneyland last week.

The union isn’t staging labor actions at all hotels simultaneously, instead pursuing a strategy of rolling walkouts. And more are on the way, Petersen said.

“Strikes can happen anytime, anywhere. And I suspect that we will be walking out very, very shortly,” he said.

Workers are picking for higher wages and better benefits and working conditions. The union says hotel employees are forced into long commutes because their pay hasn’t kept pace with soaring housing costs.

Read more:LA hotel workers endure long hours commuting, car sleeping to afford homes elsewhere

Previously, union leadership had called on other hotels to sign on with the Westin agreement. The hotel coalition has filed an unfair labor practice charge at the National Labor Relations Board, accusing Unite Here Local 11 of bargaining in bad faith by striking over “nonmandatory subjects” that aren’t related to wages and benefits. This includes a measure set for the 2024 ballot that would require hotels in Los Angeles to rent vacant rooms to unhoused people.

Under the tentative deal with Westin Bonaventure, workers will receive higher wages, affordable health insurance at less than $20 per month and increase in pension contributions. The agreement also guarantees a restoration of staffing to pre-pandemic levels so that daily room cleaning can become routine again. Workers who are not currently part of a union would have an opportunity to join unions without intimidation. The tentative agreement removes barriers for those who are formerly interested in getting hotel jobs and bans E-Verify for applicants so that workers will not be discriminated against because of their immigration status.

The negotiations came at a crucial time in Los Angeles’ “hot labor summer,” with simultaneous strikes from hotel workers, screenwriters and actors, with some people participating in more than one movement.

Tye Justis is one of those. Justis is a front desk assistant at the Viceroy Santa Monica. He is also a home healthcare worker to make ends meet as he auditions for acting jobs. After participating in the Fourth of July walkouts for the Viceroy, he is now picking at Fox Studios in Century City.

“We can all strike in solidarity because we’re all fighting for the same thing,” Justis said. At the Viceroy, he is fighting for proper staffing. As positions were cut during the pandemic, he said, this overwhelmed front desk assistants with a higher workload without higher pay.

Read more:Thousands of Southern California workers authorize the largest hotel strike in modern US history

Petersen said that the union is reaching out to meeting organizers asking them to move their gatherings out of Los Angeles because the union can’t “guarantee labor peace.”

The Democratic Governors Assn. is planning to move a conference scheduled for Monday, he said, to the Westin Bonaventure from the Beverly Hilton, which hasn’t signed a new contract. The Japanese American Citizens League National Convention, which runs from July 19 to July 23, has moved to the Westin Bonaventure from DoubleTree by Hilton, another hotel on the union strike list.

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.