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Striking Workers Battle Hotel Owned By Union Pension Fund

Union workers who have battled dozens of Southern California hotels for new contracts are squaring off with an unlikely holdout: an airport hotel owned by the pension fund of a fellow union.

Unite Here Local 11, which represents housekeepers and other hotel workers, has been waging intermittent strikes across Los Angeles to pressure hotel operators into new collective bargaining agreements. The union says it has reached deals with 34 of roughly 70 properties after seven months of walkouts.

One of the hotels where workers are still picketing is the Hyatt Regency LAX, which is owned by the Southwest Carpenters Pension Trust, a pension fund for an affiliate of the carpenters union. The ongoing contract dispute means a hotel with union ties has found itself on a union’s boycott list.

Kurt Petersen, co-president of Unite Here Local 11, said he’d hoped the pension fund would compel the hotel’s management to “avoid labor strife” and agree to a deal. Instead, he said, the hotel has “chosen to fight.”

“When we went into this we expected them to be first, not near the end,” Petersen said of resolving a contract. “I don’t know why they would think it’s in their pensioners’ best interest to continue to put this hotel at risk, financially or image-wise.”

Representatives for the carpenters union did not respond to requests for comment. The pension fund purchased the property in 2021 for $75 million, according to The Real Deal, a real estate industry site. The hotel is listed among the pension fund’s closely held corporations in its 2022 annual report.

“In our business the owner has the power.”

– Kurt Petersen, co-president, Unite Here Local 11

The union contract at the Hyatt Regency LAX would be with its operator, hotel management company Aimbridge Hospitality, which is owned by the private equity firm Advent International, rather than the pension fund itself. But Petersen said hotel owners ultimately hold sway over the operators they contract with.

“In our business the owner has the power,” he said.

The Hyatt Regency LAX is one of half a dozen properties operated by Aimbridge where the union is still pushing for contracts. Stephanie Peterson, the company’s head of marketing and communications, accused the union of backtracking on a deal in January and said the union was more focused on growing its membership.

“While the union is wasting its members’ dues on launching smear campaigns that generate fake news rife with inaccuracies and lies, Aimbridge has been diligently working toward an agreement centered on its associates and their livelihoods,” Peterson said in an email.

Aimbridge’s offer is “cheap and inferior,” said Petersen of Unite Here.

Our members aren’t interested in settling for less. And why should they?” he said.

Hotel workers have waged intermittent strikes at Los Angeles hotels since July.
Hotel workers have waged intermittent strikes at Los Angeles hotels since July.

Mario Tama via Getty Images

The contract fights in Southern California have involved 15,000 workers and more than 100 rolling strikes since the July 4 holiday weekend, part of a broader surge in labor activism from auto workers, actors, writers, nurses and baristas around the country. More U.S. workers went on strike last year than any year since 2019.

Unite Here had strategically lined up its hotel contracts to expire at the same time to increase its leverage with the industry. The unusually tight labor market has also buoyed unions more generally in their recent contract fights, with low unemployment making it harder for employers to replace workers on the cheap.

The hotel contracts are generally patterned off one another so that the hotels end up agreeing to the same wage and benefit levels. Petersen said “every penny, every word will be the same,” and that no hotel should expect a better deal than another with the union.

Petersen declined to say what sort of raises the union is demanding over the life of the contracts, but said negotiators have been “steadfast for an immediate $5 [per hour] increase,” a boost that he said would be “life-changing” for housekeepers and food service employees. Petersen said the union is not releasing details of the contracts until workers hold ratification votes.

“They’re not treating us with respect and dignity.”

– Ricardo Blanco, hotel worker and union shop steward

The monthslong battle has involved a lot of picketing near hotel entrances, as well as occasional violence.

Video captured last August showed hotel security guards tackling picketers outside the Fairmont Miramar in Santa Monica. The hotel accused workers of trying to cross security barricades, the Los Angeles Times reported. The newspaper reported in January that the union had sent a letter to police saying several workers were recently shot with an air rifle outside the Hotel Figueroa.

Although about half of the contracts have been resolved, the union is still calling on guests not to patronize hotels where contract disputes remain.

Ricardo Blanco, a room service employee and union shop steward who has worked at the Hyatt Regency LAX for 22 years, said hotel management recently issued workers disciplinary write-ups for taking part in a march on the boss. Aimbridge declined to comment on any discipline.

“They’re not treating us with respect and dignity,” Blanco said. “We’re hard workers. Every penny we make, we sweat for that.”

Blanco added that he was disappointed the hotel is owned by a union pension fund.

“They know exactly what the role of unions [are] in any place,” he said. “They should be more understanding.”

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