California hotel workers ‘on the brink’ of joining wave of strikes

Nearly 1,000 workers at Anaheim’s Sheraton Park and Hilton poised to walk off the job following protests across the US in 2018

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.

Sign up for the US morning briefing

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.”


Michael Sainato

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
'It was like hell': California hotel workers break their silence on abuse
Staff at upscale Terranea Resort claim they were subject to repeated sexual harassment as California bill to end abuse stalls

Michael Sainato in Los Angeles

16, Oct, 2018 @3:13 PM

Article image
Los Angeles hotel workers fight for panic buttons amid sexual harassment
Push for ballot petition that would mandate safety protections, limit workloads, set wage standards, and extend worker retention rules

Michael Sainato

20, May, 2022 @9:00 AM

Article image
US hotel workers face unwelcome guests: union busters hired by bosses
Consultants hired by – and staying at – Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa to suppress workers’ union organizing drive

Michael Sainato

22, Apr, 2023 @9:00 AM

Article image
‘Don't be fooled’: JetBlue president warned workers against joining a union
Revealed: Joanna Geraghty claimed the company’s successes wouldn’t be possible if employees unionized

Michael Sainato

07, Feb, 2019 @11:00 AM

Article image
'We're militant again': US teachers at convention galvanized by wave of strikes
Thousands of teachers gathered in Pittsburgh to discuss plan of action for new school year after strikes over pay and conditions

Mike Elk in Pittsburgh

15, Jul, 2018 @1:43 PM

Article image
Undocumented workers find new ally as unions act to halt deportations
Where once building unions would tip off Ice agents, now some are embracing their increasingly immigrant workforce

Mike Elk

22, Mar, 2018 @10:00 AM

Article image
Furloughed US workers fight to return to their jobs after a year on pause
After a year away, hotel and other hospitality workers fear they may be laid off permanently and replaced by younger, cheaper staff

Michael Sainato in Florida

21, Apr, 2021 @9:00 AM

Article image
US unions see unusually promising moment amid wave of victories
Labor strategists hope wins will turn into a larger trend but acknowledge it won’t be easy as corporations fight fiercely against unionization

Steven Greenhouse

16, Mar, 2022 @10:00 AM

Article image
Pro-union rally in Mississippi unites workers with community: 'We are ready'
Nissan workers mobilized thousands of activists, civil rights groups and even Bernie Sanders against companies that obstruct local unionizing efforts

Mike Elk in Canton, Mississippi

05, Mar, 2017 @10:30 PM

Article image
Miami airport workers fighting for better conditions face retaliation
Employees for Eulen America say their hours are being cut after discussing worker treatment at a roundtable with local politicians

Michael Sainato

17, May, 2019 @6:00 AM