On July 13, about three hundred hotel workers, members of the UNITE-HERE labor union, gathered at the Sheraton near the Los Angeles International Airport for a rally and march. The event started with Sheraton workers picketing the driveway at the hotel, but over the course of an hour, workers from several other hotels marched from down the street and joined the picket. The crowd swelled in size in intensity and pickets carried on, accompanied by chanting and music provided by a three-piece brass band and drums. There was singing and dancing.
The workers are represented by UNITE HERE Local 11, which represents more than 32,000 workers in the hospitality industry. Other hotels represented included the Hotel June, the Westin, the Hyatt LAX, Sheraton Gateway, Sheraton Four Points, and the Marriott. Workers chanted, “¡Si se peude!,” “¡Sheraton (and other hotels), escucha, estamos en la lucha!” (Sheraton, listen, we are in struggle), ¡Únete, únete, a la huegla, únete!” (Join, join, join the strike), ¡Aqui estamos, no nos vamos!” (We’re here and we’re not going away), ¡Contracto ahora! (Contract now), and other chants.
After about an hour of mass picketing, the workers led a march down Century Boulevard, a main thoroughfare to the airport and all downtown hotels, taking over half of the street. The march ended at the Marriott, where workers rallied.
The workers’ contract expired on June 30. The main demand of the strikers is a pay raise. Many of the workers picketing are hotel room cleaners who make less than $20 an hour in one of the most expensive regions in the country. They stressed that their wages have stagnated even as the cost of living has skyrocketed. To have affordable housing, many workers live as far as two hours away (each way) from the hotel. One housekeeper said that she leaves her house at 4 a.m. and never sees her daughter, only to get overworked and underpaid.
Another issue is overwork. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, hotels reduced their workforce and moved to a cleaning schedule every several days rather than daily. When the pandemic eased up, the hotels did not re-staff at the prior levels. The hotel room cleaners I talked to stressed that cleaning each room less often does not make for less work. In fact, it makes for longer, harder work, since the rooms, beds, and facilities are dirtier than they would have been after only one night, and there is much more trash to haul away. It is grueling work, and the workers say they deserve to be respected and compensated fairly.
Other staff also feel overworked. Cindy Guttierez and Heidy Ventura are Starbucks shift leaders (who are hotel employees at the Starbucks that is owned and run by the hotel). Cindy said that they are very short-staffed and face a lot of stress from overwork. They wanted people to know that they like their work and work very hard, often going beyond their job description to do extra without their efforts being rewarded.
“They don’t care about us. It’s all about them and their money,” Cindy said. Heidy added, “We are here together as a group to get our rights, better pay, and better insurance. We’re striking for a reason.”
Workers are feeling inspired by the strike. Andres Gaspar, a houseman (housekeeper) at the Hotel June said it was his first strike. “I didn’t think people were struggling like I am. It feels good in this whole crowd, it feels good to be united.” Another houseman at the Hotel June said, “A lot of people feel like, by myself I’m not powerful, but now in the union we have a community that works together and it’s beautiful.”
He concluded: “All I am saying is, pay us.”
Featured image credit: pxhere; modified by Tempest.
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Dana Cloud is a Tempest Collective member and scholar of Marxism, popular culture, and social movements currently teaching at California State University, Fullerton.