Striking screenwriters (in blue) show solidarity with striking hotel workers outside a Los Angeles Marriott hotel.
Photo: dpa/ZUMA Press Wirte/Ringo Chiu
California is in a wave of strikes this summer. Hollywood writers and actors, shipyard and school workers are on strike; since July 2, 15,000 hotel workers in 60 hotels in and around Los Angeles. Union members opted to go on strike when their old contracts expired in June. Her decision was strategic: Last year saw record profits as California’s tourism industry boomed in the wake of the pandemic. The 46 million visitors brought in $34.5 billion for the state in 2022. Further tourist highlights are expected with the World Cup in 2026 and the Olympics in 2028. This is one of the reasons why the union wants to create a new wage situation now. The current hourly wage of $20 to $25 is to be increased by $5 and then by $3 in each subsequent year.
Now, in this conflict, there have been the first reports of violence against striking workers. Hotel security, including in Santa Monica and Long Beach, have been accused by the Unite Here Local 11 union of throwing strikers to the ground. According to the Los Angeles Times, the hotels refuse to comment.
Hundreds of hotel workers gathered in downtown Los Angeles last week. There, German Martinez reported in Spanish to the Los Angeles Times that security personnel at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel threw him to the ground and held him down after he had walked through an open barricade: “The security staff pursued us even though we acted peacefully . After being thrown to the ground, I could not get up because my ankles and elbows were injured. Three days later I was still in pain all over my body.« At the Hotel Maya in Long Beach, security guards tried to block the strikers with a metal fence. A guest punched a hotel worker in the head while he was absent.
Despite the hostile response to the strike, California is a good place to be a union member. In the US state, 16.1 percent of workers are in a union, and the trend is rising. In contrast, the percentage of organized workers in the US as a whole fell to an all-time low of 10.1 percent in 2023. Undoubtedly, the state’s left-liberal political environment favors a strong union presence. Democratic voters outnumber Republicans twice. In the Californian parliament, the Democrats have a so-called supermajority: they hardly have to respond to Republicans. The unions contribute to the dominance of the Democrats with significant campaign involvement.
But these conditions don’t help to make life really easier for Californian workers. As in other Democratic strongholds, such as New York State, the cost of living is extremely high, especially in the inner cities where hotel staff work and also want to live.
Diana Rios-Sanchez is the housekeeping supervisor at the Intercontinental Hotel in Los Angeles. She lives with her three children in a one-bedroom apartment in El Sereno, east of the city. She doesn’t know how much longer she can pay the rent there. »All we do in the hotel business is work and more work. We get by with very little,” Rios-Sanchez told the New York Times. »We take care of the tourists, but nobody takes care of us.«
The hotel industry is reluctant to pay for the high cost of living in California. Nancy Hoffmann Vanyek of the San Fernando Valley Chamber of Commerce claims that chamber members are not responsible for California’s costly lives.
But there is an additional impetus for unions this year from fears among skilled workers in Hollywood about new technologies, including artificial intelligence. The development ensures a pro-union and also pro-strike mood. Unusual events occurred in this year’s wave of strikes in California. Earlier this month, union Unite Here Local 11 wrote an open letter to megastar Taylor Swift. In it, the singer was asked to cancel her six shows in Los Angeles in solidarity with the striking hotel workers. The letter was also signed by 50 California state officials, including Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis. The latter pointed out that Los Angeles hotels were doubling and tripling their prices because of the Swift tour, but didn’t want to reach an agreement with their own employees. Taylor Swift didn’t cancel her Los Angeles concerts. But the strikers in California are not giving up.
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