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Guest Opinion | Peter Dreier | Workers at Pasadena Hilton Will Keep Picketing Until the Company Provides a Decent Contract

Published on Monday, April 15, 2024 | 10:52 am

[UPDATED] More than 100 workers at the Pasadena Hilton have been on strike since July in their battle for a contract that includes livable wages, adequate health care benefits, fair workloads, and polices to protect workers from on-the-job sexual harassment.  The hotel’s housekeepers, cooks and other employees – as well as many community allies – have engaged in pickets and marches throughout that period to draw more public attention to their plight. They did so again on Friday to push Aimbridge Hospitality – the global company that operates the Pasadena Hilton – to settle the longstanding dispute.

The Pasadena Hilton workers are part of the largest hotel worker strike in modern U.S history, led by Local 11 of UNITE HERE, the hospitality employees union.  Last summer, over 10,000 workers at 52 hotels throughout the Los Angeles area went on strike. Union workers at 35 of those hotels ended the strike after the hotels agreed to historic contracts, but Aimbridge Hospitality has resisted agreeing to a similar settlement.  

These new contracts are the first since COVID devastated the tourism industry. In April 2020, more than 95% of Local 11’s members were laid off. While hotels pocketed billions in federal COVID bailout funds, unemployed hotel workers lined up at food banks. When they returned to their job after the pandemic abated, employers insisted that they do more work for less money, including cleaning more rooms every day.  Wages failed to keep up with rent increases and overall inflation.  

A union survey discovered that 53% of its members reported had either moved or expected to move in the near future due to rising housing costs. Many moved farther from their workplaces, resulting in hours-long commutes, as the Los Angeles Times reported.  Some hotel workers had to resort to sleeping in their cars in order to get to work on time. 

One of the key goals of the strike and the workers’ contract demands was for hotels to pay a living wage so employees can afford to live near where they work.  

The new contract includes a $5.00 per hour wage increase in the first year of the contract — an additional $850 per month, or $10,400 a year, to pay their bills. Over the terms of the four-year contract, ending in January 2028, the housekeepers, cooks, and other workers will get a $10 an hour raise, an average 8.9% raise per year. 

Housekeepers at most hotels will earn $35 per hour, or $73,000 per year, by the end of the contract. Top cooks will earn $41 per hour, or $85,000 per year. 

Tipped workers will earn double-time pay for working on holidays, and an automatic 20% gratuity in hotels’ full-service restaurants that will be shared by the workers.

The new contract maintains Local 11’s excellent health insurance. Workers pay no more than $20 per month for full family coverage.  They also got a hefty increase in the hotels’ contribution to their pension fund, making it one of the highest- paid  pension plans for service workers in the country.

A key pillar of the new contract deals with the exhausting and back-breaking work of hotel employees. It increases the number of housekeeping staff in order to reduce the number of rooms each worker has to clean each day.  

The hotels also agreed in increase the diversity of their staffs, particularly the number of Black employees, who have been significantly underrepresented in the local hotel workforce.   The contract also protects immigrant workers by prohibiting hotels from auditing their documents after their probationary period.

Under the new contract, hotels and restaurants agreed to work with Local 11 to  purchase food products produced under United Farm Workers of America contracts. The hotels will also give preference to hiring  companies with union contracts to perform construction work.

Since the region-wide hotel strike began last summer, the City of LA passed the “responsible hotel ordinance” that requires new hotels to replace housing they displaced in order to construct the new building.  In November, voters in Long Beach passed the nation’s highest minimum wage for hotel workers — $29.50 an hour. Local 11, community groups, and local elected officials led that successful campaign. 

Hotel workers throughout the region are celebrating their historic contract victory, but they won’t be satisfied until  Aimbridge Hospitality agrees to a similar contract at the Pasadena Hilton and the eight other hotels it operates in the area —  the Aloft El Segundo, Courtyard Marriott Santa Monica, Doubletree Hotel Downtown Los Angeles, Fairfield Inn and  Suites El Segundo, Hampton Inn & Suites Santa Monica, Holiday Inn LAX, Hyatt Regency LAX, and Sheraton Park Anaheim.  

Based in Plano, Texas, Aimbridge Hospitality operates over 1,200 hotels in all 50 states and more than 20 countries. 

Earlier this year, Local 11 launched a boycott of the controversial hotel operator, which they have dubbed “Shamebridge.” 

Over the last two months, six women at two Aimbridge hotel – the Hampton Inn & Suites Santa Monica and Sheraton Park Anaheim – have come forward alleging they experienced harassment and verbal abuse at work. The women have filed pending complaints with the California Civil Rights Department.  

Local 11 also pressed the company to adopt a series of specific collective bargaining proposals to address and prevent the sexual harassment of its members at Aimbridge-operated hotels. Other unionized hotels in the LA area have already agreed to adopt these policies and practices to address sexual harassment of hotel workers.

A group of more than fifty prominent Californians, including Lieutenant Governor of California Eleni Kounalakis, State Senator Maria Elena Durazo, Dolores Huerta (co-founder of the United Farm Workers union), and the mayors of several cities, recently sent a letter to Aimbridge’s new CEO Craig Smith pressing the company to take specific steps to address the issue, including appointing an ombudsperson to provide an independent assessment of the company’s practices, recommend systemic reforms, and ensure complete and appropriate remediation in particular cases.

In fact, the Pasadena Hilton workers are not only in a dispute with the hotel company, they are also at odds with the City of Pasadena. Pasadena’s City Attorney filed charges against protestors who participated in a peaceful picket line at the Pasadena Hilton in December.  Pasadena is the only city in Southern California that has filed criminal charges against participants in strikes that have occurred across Southern California. 

The charges allege that the protestors used handheld bullhorns in violation of a city law that restricts the use of amplified sound that is more than five decibels above the ambient level. The union asserts that the law is unconstitutionally restrictive of free speech and that it was misapplied by the City Attorney in a way that stifled workers’ First Amendment rights.  On Friday, Pasadena police detained and issued criminal citations to three protestors who were using bullhorns. Despite the City’s crackdown, the workers say that they will continue to exercise their constitutional rights to peacefully protest. 

Peter Dreier, a longtime Pasadena resident, teaches political science at Occidental College.

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