LA hotel, hospitality workers prepare for strike with airport sit-in
Matthew Hunter/PW

LOS ANGELES–Next week, thousands of hotel and hospitality workers could go on strike in Los Angeles and Orange County, and the Phoenix metropolitan area. And they prepared for the possibility with a peaceful sit-in of civil disobedience at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

The forced strike by members of Unite Here Local 11 is nationally important. Not only would it affect air traffic into and out of the nation’s second-largest and sixth-largest cities, but it features a potential union demand for affordable housing for the thousands of workers who toil at the airport.

Given the nation’s increasing crisis of affordable housing for working-class people from coast to coast, along with rising numbers of homeless, that’s a demand that could be taken up elsewhere. Indeed, the Chicago Teachers Union campaigned for that cause, too, in past contract talks.

The LAX sit-in was at the airport’s entrance on June 22. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) arrested more than 200 workers and community members, including several notable local officeholders, for participating in civil disobedience.

The sit-in was designed to “shut down LAX,” as a sign UNITE HERE Local 11 hotel and hospitality workers can and will “shut down this city,” as Local 11 co-president Kurt Petersen said at the rally in front of thousands of workers and community members.

In early June, some 96% of voting members of UNITE HERE Local 11 authorized the “largest industry-wide strike in U.S. history.” The local represents 32,000 room attendants, cooks, dishwashers, front desk agents, and food service workers in Los Angeles, Orange County, the Inland Empire, and parts of Arizona—most of whom could be on strike as early as July 4. Their contracts expire at midnight, on June 30.

The key demands of the workers are an immediate $5 hourly wage increase to keep up with inflation, better family healthcare plans, a livable pension, the creation of a hospitality workforce housing fund, and safe and humane workloads.

The demand for more and better housing for working-class people is tied to two big upcoming sports events in L.A.: The 2026 men’s soccer World Cup and the 2028 Summer Olympics, the first time ever two of the globe’s largest sporting events will occur in the same city back-to-back. Both competitions require “Olympic villages” to house the visiting athletes—and past such projects have presented two dimensions of the housing problems.

In both soccer and the Olympics, current housing for working-class people was torn down to make way for the villages, leaving the residents to shift for themselves. And once the games were over, the developments became luxury dwellings. UNITE HERE’s workforce housing fund is supposed to help solve at least the first of those two problems.

Past Olympics and World Cup tournaments have “left local governments indebted for years and have permanently displaced millions of poor residents,” a UNITE HERE press release says. The issue of livable housing is vital in regard to these events. The 1984 Olympics in L.A. was an exception: Its Olympic Village became public housing.

Also, the capitalist propaganda filtered through these events—and their billions of dollars in advertising–could potentially be challenged by a county-wide strike as the next period of contract negotiations after this current one could be a week before the World Cup.

“I voted yes to strike because I commute two hours from my home in Apple Valley to downtown Los Angeles. I deserve to make enough money to live near where I work,” said Brenda Mendoza, a uniform attendant at the JW Marriott LA Live.

Over 100 separate contracts are up with Hyatt, Hilton, Highgate, Accor, IHG, and Marriott. They’re cumulatively valued at $142.29 billion. These same hotels were given $15 billion in federal bailouts during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic while cutting jobs by up to 95%—and not everyone who was laid off has been re-hired.

Profits surpass pre-pandemic levels

Hotel profits in Los Angeles and Orange County are greater now than they were at pre-pandemic levels, Marriott’s reported net income in the first quarter of 2023 was $757 million, yet workers’ wages are decreasing in value due to inflation and rising costs.

Matthew Hunter/PW

“L.A.’s tourism industry thrives on the hard work of their employees. But right now, minimum wage workers must work 100 hours a week just to afford an apartment in LA.,” says City Councilwoman Katy Yaroslavsky. “It’s time to raise the wage and make sure that the people who make Los Angeles a world-class destination can actually afford to live here,” she added.

Local 11 co-president Kurt Petersen said “Hotel workers who work in the booming Los Angeles tourism industry must be able to live in Los Angeles. The industry shamelessly exploited the pandemic and is now reaping greater profits than ever before. Yet workers cannot afford to pay the rent.

“This 96% vote to authorize a strike sends a clear message to the industry that workers have reached their limit and are prepared to strike to secure a living wage,” Petersen stated.

At the LAX sit-in, Petersen praised other recent strike efforts, by the United Teachers of Los Angeles/SEIU combination, the Writers Guild of America, Amazon workers, and Starbucks employees. Most of them were at the sit-in at LAX along with United Farm Workers and Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice.

The build-up to this potential strike has been in the making for months: A small strike at the airport, rallies in April and May, and the major strikes involving the other unions that have taken place in Los Angeles and Orange County over the last year.

Through that coalition and solidarity work between unions, UNITE HERE Local 11 and SEIU are also pushing the L.A. City Council and the California legislature and governor for a $25 minimum wage.

With the strike imminent, a resolution to these 100 contracts could still be reached. However, if not, thousands of workers will “shut down this city.”

UNITE HERE Local 11 is riding a summer wave of discontent in the working class, and that energy was there at LAX where the community applauded the civil disobedience of hundreds in the face of the police.

Hundreds were arrested including elected City Council members Hugo Soto-Martinez and Nithya Raman and Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo—though the latter was seen taking selfies with the police at the event and Soto-Martinez recently voted to increase police funding and recruitment.

However, this type of working-class strength and momentum can never be stopped or co-opted. UNITE HERE Local 11 is ready to go on strike, and the community is ready to support them.

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Matthew Hunter
Matthew Hunter

Matthew Hunter is the secretary of the Southeast Los Angeles Club of the CPUSA. He produces the Trending Now! Network on YouTube.