Over the 4th of July weekend, thousands of cooks, room attendants, dishwashers, servers, bellmen, and front desk agents at multiple properties walked out on the largest multi-hotel strike in the history of UNITE HERE Local 11, which represents over 32,000 workers in the great L.A. area.

Arturo Hueso, houseman of 30 years at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows in Santa Monica said, “I am on strike because, unlike my boss, my cancer does not take a holiday. If I lose my healthcare I would pay thousands of dollars out of pocket for treatments and medications. I am on strike for my life.”

Monday morning, Santa Monica city leaders joined the striking workers on the picket lines at the Fairmont. Jon Katz, President of the Santa Monica Democratic Club, said, “Workers have been fighting for a living wage for a long time, and the hotels haven’t come to the table with a good deal that’s going to create a living wage for the people who work here and that have to commute here all the way across L.A. County.” Katz added that he was joining workers to add his voice for an easier cost of living so they have a chance to live locally.

Anastasia Foster, Chair of the Santa Monica Rent Control Board, was tough on hotel management, saying, “The gleaming floors in the lobbies of these hotels, and the luxurious bedding that get these hotels the $5-6-700 a night for their rooms come at a great expense – on the backs and the sweat and the bodies of our workers who have to drive an hour or more to get to these jobs.” She also said a living wage is the least we can do, but we also need to make sure the city of Santa Monica’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund needs to be put to work to house the families of hotel workers.

“Our members were devastated first by the pandemic, and now by the greed of their bosses,” says Kurt Petersen, Co-President of UNITE HERE Local 11. “The industry got bailouts while we got cuts. Now, the hotel negotiators decided to take a four-day holiday instead of negotiating. Shameful.”

The walkout comes after the biggest hotel in L.A., the Westin Bonaventure, came to an agreement just a day before contracts expired.

On June 8, hotel workers voted 96 percent in favor of authorizing a strike. The union is seeking to create a hospitality workforce housing fund, in addition to better wages, healthcare benefits, pension and safer workloads. In a UNITE HERE Local 11 survey, 53 percent of workers said that they either have moved in the past five years or will move in the near future because of soaring housing costs. Hotel workers report commuting hours from areas like Apple Valley, Palmdale, California City, and Victorville.

During the pandemic, hotels received $15 billion in federal bailouts and cut jobs and guest services such as daily room cleaning. In 2023, hotel profits in Los Angeles and Orange County exceeded pre-pandemic levels, yet hospitality workers continue to struggle to afford a place to live in the cities where they work.

That doesn’t sit well with Santa Monica City Councilmember Jesse Zwick, who said he was on hand to support the worker’s cause. “They’re striking because they can’t afford to live in the city where they work – or anywhere within an hour of Santa Monica – and I think it’s important for our community, for the environment, and for social justice that we allow people to live where they work.”

Zwick’s colleague, Councilmember Caroline Torosis, agreed with his points on workers deserving a living wage to be able to live near work. She also said of the workers, “They deserve fair treatment and a fair contract across the entire region, where it has become unaffordable to live in L.A. County. And if we are going to welcome the Olympics in 2028, we will not do that off the backs of our workers. We must ensure everyone has benefits and a fair wage.”

Southern California will be the first city in modern history to host back-to-back the FIFA World Cup in 2026 and the Olympics in 2028.  In recent decades, these have left local governments indebted for years and have permanently displaced millions of poor residents.

When asked if the forthcoming World Cup and 2028 Olympic Games had anything to do with the timing of the strike, Susan Minato, Co-President of UNITE HERE, Local 11, said, “100 percent yes. L.A. and surrounding areas do not bring in the Olympics and FIFA, and anything else, frankly, without workers getting a fair piece. And we are determined to do that – not only with this contract – because there are hundreds and hundreds of events coming in even now as we speak.” She alluded to last week’s Anime Expo downtown as just one example of an event bringing in 100,000 people.

Hotel management did not return calls for comment.

Photo by the author.

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