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Hotel workers' strike disrupts July 4th holiday in Southern California

Striking hotel workers rally outside the InterContinental Hotel after walking off their job early Sunday, July 2, 2023, in downtown Los Angeles.
Damian Dovarganes
Striking hotel workers rally outside the InterContinental Hotel after walking off their job early Sunday, July 2, 2023, in downtown Los Angeles.

Updated July 3, 2023 at 7:07 PM ET

In Southern California, screenwriters are on strike. Actors have threatened to strike. And now hotel housekeepers, bellhops, servers, dishwashers, and front desk staff have joined the picket lines.

The strike of thousands of hotel employees in and around Los Angeles comes during a busy week for the region, where people have traveled for the July 4th holiday and the annual Anime Expo, an anime conference which attracts thousands of attendees.

The unionized workers are using the strike, which began Sunday, to call for higher wages, limits on their workloads and financial help with housing needs in one of the most expensive parts of the country, among other things. Their labor contract expired Friday.

The union, UNITE HERE Local 11, is asking hotels for an immediate $5 an hour raise, which amounts to a 20% raise for workers, and more increases in subsequent years. The union also wants hotels to implement a 7% surcharge on guest tabs to create a fund specifically to address workers' housing needs.

Hotel workers say they can't afford to live close to work

The union surveyed workers in the area and found more than half have either moved in the past five years or plan to move in the near future because of housing costs.

Graciela Lira, a 56-year-old housekeeper at the L.A. Grand Hotel, is among those who have moved. She now commutes more than an hour to and from work everyday.

"I have to live with a roommate, because for myself, I can't afford it," she said. "Gas is so expensive. I have to pay for parking."

A coalition of 44 hotels in the area offered a contract giving workers a 10% hourly pay increase in the first 12 months, and further increases in subsequent years. By 2027, workers would earn more than $31 an hour, said Keith Grossman, a lawyer representing the group.

The hotels are against adding a surcharge to help with employee housing, which they call a tax on guests.

"That is the purview of the elected leaders and the regulatory decision makers," said Peter Hillan, spokesman for the Hotel Association of Los Angeles. "Hotels are very supportive of equity and provide great wages and benefits. But the responsibility for housing is on elected leaders."

The union argues hotels can afford to pay their workers more.

"They're making more money now than they were before the pandemic," says Maria Hernandez, an organizer with UNITE HERE Local 11. She also cited the billions in pandemic bailout money that hotels received.

Some Los Angeles hotels curtail guest services

So far hotels have remained open by pulling in workers from other properties and elsewhere, Hillan said.

The strikes have forced some to limit their services, however. At the InterContinental in downtown Los Angeles, guests are receiving only partial room cleanings – getting their trash taken out and receiving fresh towels. The hotel, one of the biggest in the city, has also paused in-room dining and closed one of its restaurants.

The hotel group said the union canceled a scheduled bargaining meeting on June 28 and refused to meet in the days leading up to the contract expiration.

"The strike is premature and... pretty injurious even to its own members," who are losing out on pay, Hillan said.

Hernandez of UNITE HERE said the hotels have had the union proposal since April 20 and that there has been "very little movement on the economics."

It's unclear when the union and the coalition will resume talks.

Sergio Olmos contributed to this report.

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Erin Kenney
Andrea Hsu is NPR's labor and workplace correspondent.