Thousands of Southern California hoteliers are on strike demanding better wages and benefits

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Thousands of Southern California hospitality workers walked off the job Sunday, demanding higher pay and better benefits in what the union calls the biggest strike in its history.

Hotel cooks, room attendants, dishwashers, waiters, bellboys and front desk agents were picketing major hotels in Los Angeles and Orange counties just as the summer tourist s intensifies.

Last month, members of Unite Here Local 11 voted 96% in favor of authorizing the strike. The union is demanding better wages, better health care benefits, higher pension contributions and less arduous workloads.

In addition, the union wants to create a “housing fund for hotel workers” to help workers cope with the skyrocketing cost of living in greater Los Angeles. Many employees report commuting hours because they cannot afford to live close to where they work.

“Our members were devastated first by the pandemic, and now by the greed of their bosses,” union co-chairman Kurt Petersen said in a statement. “The industry got bailouts while we got cuts.”

Contracts expired at midnight on Friday at more than 60 hotels, including properties owned by major chains such as Marriott and Hilton. The strike affects about half of the 32,000 hospitality workers the union represents in Southern California and Arizona.

Last week, an agreement was reached with its biggest employer, the Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites in downtown Los Angeles, which has more than 600 unionized workers. Union officials have described the tentative agreement, which provides for higher wages and increased staffing levels, as a major victory for workers.

Talks with other hotels were deadlocked. A coalition of more than 40 hotels involved in the negotiations have accused union leaders of canceling a scheduled bargaining session and refusing to sit down at the table.

Unite Here Local 11 “has not budged from its opening demand two months ago for a salary increase of up to 40% and an increase of more than 28% in benefits costs”, the hotel group said in an email Friday to the Los Angeles Times. “From the outset, the union showed no willingness to engage in productive and good faith negotiations with this group.”

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