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LA Workers are Taking to the Streets

Across the city and county, workers are fighting for their jobs, their housing — and their lives. Here are six major labor actions happening this summer.

Striking Fast Food Workers hold flags. One says "justice for fast food workers"
Service Employees International Union (SEIU) on strike outside of the LA Chamber of Commerce. (Photo: Joey Scott | Knock LA)

Fast Food Workers on Strike for Safety

Hundreds of fast food workers across the city went on strike on July 13, demanding workplaces free from physical hazards and sexual harassment.

The action comes a few weeks after a McDonald’s in East Los Angeles was closed for eight days because the vast majority of its workers were on strike, demanding the store stop putting their lives at risk.

Picket signs at daily rallies honored Bertha Montes, who was hospitalized and died after her boss refused to let her go home early. She was “visibly sick at work with bulging red, glossy eyes,” her co-workers said in a Cal/OSHA complaint they filed with the assistance of Fight for $15 LA. “That was the last time we saw her at work.”

The complaint also describes a complete absence of safety training, violation of protections for underage workers, and several examples of workers pushed to work when they had the COVID-19 virus.

Elizabeth Juarez said she regularly works “clopening shifts,” closing the store at 10 PM and returning to open at 4 AM the next day, leaving her unable to get enough rest or do her work safely. She recounted being pushed to work while sick, saying her manager told her to throw up in the back of the store, get back to work, “and be sure to throw away the bag of vomit.” Elizabeth said “they didn’t let me leave until someone came to replace me, just like Bertha. They didn’t let her leave until someone came to replace her, and then she died.”

UPS Teamsters walking carrying signs asking for a fair contract
UPS workers picket outside the downtown Olympic facility | Photo: Sarah Michelson | Knock LA)

UPS Workers Prepare to Strike 

Hundreds of UPS workers picketed outside the Olympic facility in downtown Los Angeles on June 30 to practice for a nationwide strike in August if they don’t reach a satisfactory contract by the end of July. They plan to “practice” picketing six more locations in Southern California in the next week.

Over 97% of the country’s 340,000 UPS workers voted to authorize a strike as they negotiate for safer conditions, higher pay, and more protections for part-time workers, who make up 65% of UPS’s workforce. 

The day after the first practice picket, workers won three concessions, including abolishing a classification of workers known as 22.4s, who receive less pay and fewer rights, such as those regarding overtime and bidding on routes. “They do the exact same work as me,” said Jared Hamil, who has driven for UPS for over a decade, “but make almost $10 less an hour.”

Hamil says UPS does not protect drivers from excessive heat, and the company even removes air conditioning from trucks instead of maintaining them. Last year a 24-year-old driver in Pasadena named Esteban “Stevie” Chavez Jr. collapsed and died while making deliveries for UPS during the heatwave.

Hotel Housekeepers on Strike for a Fair Contract

Thousands of hotel workers across Southern California are on strike in the second round of hotel strikes in less than a week. Their union, UNITE HERE Local 11, says more strikes are likely in the coming weeks, until their bosses negotiate a fair contract that allows them to afford to live near where they work.

During the July 4 weekend, one of the busiest travel times of the year, thousands of hotel workers went on a three-day strike. Hotel workers say that rising housing costs are pushing them to live as far as three hours away from their jobs, and rising gas prices are cutting into their wages. 

About 15,000 people work for 61 unionized hotels with contracts that expired June 30. Only one of those — Westin Bonaventure, the largest hotel in LA — agreed to a contract that was satisfactory to its workers.

Among the workers’ demands are an immediate $5-per-hour raise followed by annual $3-per-hour raises, improved healthcare and pension plans, two paid hours to vote on election days, Juneteenth as a paid holiday, and an end to discrimination against undocumented immigrants and people with criminal records. They’re also pushing hotels to implement a 7% tax on guests, which would fund affordable housing for hotel workers.

“We know what we deserve,” Intercontinental Hotel front desk supervisor Jennifer Flores told Knock LA. “No matter what it takes, we will fight because we deserve it.”

Flores said that as a teenager she was inspired by the arrests of dozens of Disney workers in 2008 at a union protest fighting for better healthcare. She had thought of her mother, who struggled with healthcare costs as a hotel housekeeper at the LA Grand. “I remember telling my mom, if there is an opportunity to fight for you, I’m going to do it.”

On June 22, Flores and nearly 200 other workers and allies were arrested at a massive protest near LAX. “It was my way of telling my mom, I owe you a lot and now I understand more everything you were fighting for,” Flores said. “Now I’m doing it for you and my son.”

A striking fast food worker carries a sign that says "Worker power. worker voice."
A fast food worker at the picket line outside of the LA Chamber of Commerce (Photo: Joey Scott | Knock LA)

Palmdale Amazon Workers on Strike for Their Jobs

Delivery drivers in Palmdale centers are on an indefinite strike after they say Amazon retaliated against them for organizing a union and advocating for driver safety.

“Walking into the van is like opening a preheated oven,” delivery driver Michael Leib told Knock LA. “It’s like being hit with a wall of heat.” He said Amazon pushes him to deliver to over 25 houses per hour, without functioning air conditioning, even during heat waves in the high desert.

Like many delivery drivers, Leib wears an Amazon uniform, drives an Amazon van, delivers Amazon packages, and receives disciplinary calls from Amazon if he doesn’t deliver fast enough — but he is not directly employed by Amazon. His direct employer is a small  subcontracted company called Battle Tested Strategies (BTS).

When Palmdale workers organized a union in April, BTS voluntarily recognized the union and negotiated a contract. Leib and his co-workers became the first workers in the entire Amazon network to have a recognized union and union contract.

In the midst of workers organizing, Amazon abruptly announced they would terminate their contract with BTS. The drivers then began their strike, and set up a solidarity fund for striking workers. 

At distribution centers across the country — including New Jersey, Connecticut, and other California centers — workers have organized solidarity pickets. 

Several Palmdale workers told Knock LA they’ve received emails from Amazon encouraging them to apply to work for Amazon under a different subcontractor — meaning they would do the same work, for the same company, based in the same facility, but without a union.

Instead, they are on an indefinite strike. 

Smart & Final Workers Fight for Their Jobs

In February, workers at Smart & Final’s distribution center in Commerce successfully organized a union, and in May workers at the Riverside location did the same. That month, the grocery store abruptly announced they would close both facilities. The company, recently acquired by Mexican corporation Chedraui, sent workers letters encouraging them to reapply for their jobs at the new, non-unionized, distribution center.

“Workers are being punished for joining a union,” Oscar Ruiz, a Teamsters Local 630 representative told Knock LA.

Joe Lagano has worked at Smart & Final for over 30 years. “We made a lot of sacrifices,” he told Knock LA. “I slept three or four hours a night [and] left family stuff early to work graveyard shifts.” After many years of work, he said the company rewarded him with higher pay and benefits and a less physically arduous position after his back went out.

If Lagano and his co-workers reapply for their jobs at the new distribution center, he says that they’d be re-hired at a basic wage. “I’m sure there won’t be five weeks’ vacation, and there won’t be a pension. But we can’t get answers to any of these questions.”

On June 28 and 29, workers leafletted five Smart & Final stores in and around Los Angeles, to raise awareness and ask customers to pressure the company to restore their jobs and negotiate a fair contract.

After management learned about the action, they suddenly mandated that many workers stay for a 10-hour shift. “I’ve been there 32 years,” Lagano said. “There’s no way there was enough work for 10 hours.”

Still, dozens of workers still turned out to each location for the action, and they say they’ll continue to fight for their jobs. “Our service to this company has been nothing short of miraculous,” Logano said. “In my opinion, we are irreplaceable.”

People striking in front of Paramount Studios carrying signs that say "LGBT For Striking WGA Workers" and "WGA" signs
A protest in support of WGA members in front of Paramount Studios (Photo: Sarah Michelson | Knock LA)

Writers and Actors on Strike

For the first time in over 40 years, workers in the actors’ union SAG-AFTRA are on strike after their contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) expired on June 30 and negotiations were extended to midnight on July 12.

This is the first time actors and writers have been on strike together since 1960, when Ronald Reagan was president of SAG-AFTRA and fighting for expanded residuals.

After more than 70 days, this year’s Hollywood writers strike is going strong and continuing to draw support from a range of other industry’s unions, including janitors, bakers, and costumers.

Writers and directors recently founded the Union Solidarity Coalition to financially support crew workers affected by the strike.

In the absence of television’s traditional fall-to-spring schedule, writers say they are pushed to do more work in less time for less money. Instead of providing a half-year commitment, writers’ rooms now often last just a few weeks, with no guarantee of future employment on the shows they help create.

Both writers and actors are fighting for higher residuals, which have plummeted in recent years. The cast of Friends, which aired from 1994 to 2004, receive $20 million per year in residuals, whereas several stars of Orange is the New Black say they receive about $20 per year.

Workers are also fighting for protection from the threat of AI taking their jobs and using their work and likeness without proper compensation or credit. The AMPTP offered what they called a “groundbreaking AI proposal”: one day’s pay for an actor to undergo a scan and sign away their image and likeness to the studios’ use for eternity.

TV drama writer and strike captain Haley Harris said workers will not settle and are ready to fight for as long as it takes. “They’ve trained us to be unemployed,” she tells Knock LA. “We can go on forever.”

Other Actions

-Workers at Shine N Brite Car Wash in Inglewood held a protest July 11 where they delivered a letter to the owner, Michael Zarabi, demanding he implement safety measures like 10-minute rest breaks. Zarabi was cited by the Labor Commission in November 2022 for stealing over $900,000 from his workers by illegally underpaying them. He has not yet reimbursed the workers, who are owed up to $92,000 each.

-Workers at the air filter company Coway hold regular pickets demanding their employer stop a “harsh anti-union campaign” and recognize the union they overwhelmingly voted for in October. 

-UNITE HERE Local 11 asks customers to boycott all businesses under Tommie and Thompson Hotels over discrimination, anti-union campaigns, and alleged theft of service fees meant for workers. The boycott includes the Tommie and Thompson Hotel as well as Mother Wolf, Bar Lis, Ka’teen, and Mes Amis.