After 18 years working a housekeeper at the Sheraton Park resort in Anaheim, California, Celia Hernandez still struggles to make ends meet.
“I live three blocks from Disneyland. I live in a two-bedroom apartment. I pay $1,875 a month in rent. My 23-year-old son is forced to live in the living room on the couch because we can’t afford a bigger place because the cost of living is so high,” Hernandez said. “It’s a struggle for someone like me to put food on the table for my family.”
But Hernandez is now taking action. She is one of nearly 1,000 hotel workers at the Sheraton Park resort and Hilton hotel in Anaheim who are on the verge of walking off the job, continuing a wave of hotel strikes that occurred at the end of 2018 across the US.
In September 2018, 6,000 union members went on strike against 26 hotels in Chicago. Nearly 8,000 Marriott hotel workers went on strike in eight US cities for nine weeks in October 2018, the largest hotel strike in US history. Hotel workers in the Los Angeles area were poised to join the wave of hotel strikes after union members at 24 hotels in Los Angeles and Orange county voted to authorize a strike in December 2018.
Though several Los Angeles hotels later reached contract deals to avoid a strike, the Sheraton Park resort and Hilton are holding out in negotiations, demanding concessions. Unite Here Local 11, which represents about 1,000 workers at both hotels, said workers are “now on the brink of walking off the job”.
Among concerns from hotel workers are the small wage increases being offered by the hotels in contract negotiations, as well as risks due to reduce health coverage.
“If they raise the price of the medical insurance, people won’t be able to afford it any more,” Hernandez said. “A week ago I had a biopsy on one of my breasts. If I didn’t have affordable health insurance, I can’t imagine how much money I would have paid out of pocket for that.”
Lorena Osegueda has worked at the Sheraton Park resort as a hostess for 12 years and struggles on her current wages and with the cost of health insurance. “A mother of three with the income I’m getting, I’m living paycheck to paycheck, and it’s very hard for me to pay for the insurance as it is,” said Osegueda. “We’re living in a two-bedroom apartment for $1,600 plus bills on top, let alone other things that come up – food, and other things.”
The hotels have stood firm to demand concessions from the union. Unite Here Local 11’s organizing director in Orange county, Austin Lynch, noted cooks and stewards are being asked to work four-hour shifts, after they have historically relied on eight-hour shifts. They plan on opening a non-union restaurant in the hotel lobby to compete with the unionized restaurant operated by the hotel, and remain one of the few unionized hotels to refuse to offer their employees a pension. The Hilton is also pushing to enact a program to incentivize guests to reject room cleaning, which would result in layoffs or a reduction in hours for current housekeepers, as well as an increase their workload.
“Both hotels are offering very little money, not enough for the workers to take a significant step forward in their wages or pension. Right now the cost of living is surging and the hotels have been doing fabulously, they don’t deny that,” said Lynch. “Workers can’t get small wage increases or no improvement in their pension at a time when hotels are surging and the cost of living is surging.”
The union has also accused both hotels of utilizing anti-union tactics, including managers intimidating and interrogating workers and distributing false information about the union negotiations.
In a letter sent from the Sheraton Park resort to Unite Here Local 11, the hotel’s general manager wrote: “Union representatives continue to unnecessarily agitate the associates, causing some associates to leave work in tears, and negatively impact the guests who financially support the Hotel and provide our associates with work opportunities.”
Marriott referred comment to the hospitality management company that operates the Sheraton Park hotel, Interstate Hotels & Resorts.
A spokesperson for the hotel told the Guardian in an email: “We are currently in the midst of negotiations with the labor union that represents some of our employees. However, our collective bargaining agreement expired on 30 November 2018. While we continue to negotiate in good faith with the union to achieve a new agreement, we support our associates’ right to decide whether to participate in activities protected by federal labor laws.”
A spokesperson for Hilton hotels said in an email: “If the union decides to call a strike, we have contingency plans in place to ensure operations run as smoothly as possible and that we continue to offer the same service and amenities that we are proud to provide our guest and clients every day.”