Yesterday, 15,000 hotel workers, including many in Los Angeles, walked off the job to join a strike against hotel owners at the start of one of the busiest holidays of the year. The workers are demanding increased wages, both immediate and phased in over the next several years including a $5 an hour immediate wage increase, affordable family healthcare, predictable pay increases over the next several years, a pension plan and improved working conditions.
Hotel workers in Santa Monica are represented by Unite Here! Local 11. Workers with Unite Here voted to support the strike earlier this year with a shockingly high 96% support. Santa Monica has a separate minimum wage for hotel workers that is higher than for other jobs, but still falls short of a Living Wage for the region. The rising cost of living, especially housing, is outstripping wage increases for workers and is the main reason given for the strike.
SoFi Bank calculates the cost of living for Southern California to be $53,082, which is surely lower than the rate for the Westside in and around Santa Monica. However, based on that number and the minimum wage for hotel workers in Santa Monica ($19.70), a worker would have to work 52 hours a week to survive without going into debt.
“The industry shamelessly exploited the pandemic and is now reaping greater profits than ever before. Yet workers cannot afford to pay the rent,” said Kurt Petersen, Co-President of UNITE HERE Local 11. “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 is referring to the $15 billion in federal bailouts and federal “loans” (that did not have to be repaid) received by the hotel industry during the pandemic. Hard figures for the area are hard to come by, but anecdotally the industry has shed thousands of jobs locally as the tourism industry has slowly rebounded from pandemic lows.
But as the tourism industry returns, Unite Local 11 and other hotel worker unions want to make sure both that their members receive their share of the recovery and more workers are hired to alleviate the long hours and harder conditions they are currently experiencing. In addition to the regular surge of tourists, the Southern California region will play host to the World Cup in 2026 and the Summer Olympics in 2028. Both events should be a boom for the hotel industry.
Contracts between hotels and staff expired on July 1, and nearly two dozen of the 62 Southern California hotels without a contract are experiencing a strike. In Santa Monica, the hotels where workers are striking include the Fairmont-Miramar, Courtyard by Mariott, Le Meridien Delfina, Hampton Inn & Suites and the Viceroy.
Santa Monica’s political leaders are supporting the union’s call for solidarity. Councilmember Jesse Zwick tweeted a list of hotels where workers are striking to encourage tourists not to cross picket lines and wrote an op-ed calling for a “Summer of Solidarity” for workers who can’t afford to live where they work. Councilember Caroline Torosis tweeted a video in front of the Fairmont-Miramar where she joined striking workers.