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Union Hotel Workers Organize, Demonstrate, and Win at West Hollywood City Hall

In a 4–1 vote, WeHo City Councilmembers move to codify protections for hotel workers.

a group of unite here local 11 demonstrators in matching red shirts march in front of west hollywood city hall
Photo courtesy of UNITE HERE Local 11.

Bodies in solid red UNITE HERE shirts flooded the steps of City Hall and spilled onto Sweetzer Avenue. Mops and brooms were fashioned into celebratory tools, swaying to the beats of Dolores Huerta. A scene both decades in the making and precisely of the moment. UNITE HERE Local 11 organized hundreds of hotel and hospitality workers in West Hollywood — a separate city of about 37,000 people but a massive cog in the Los Angeles’ tourist economy — in an effort to pass an ordinance codifying pay and protections.

The ordinance passed on July 20, by a 4–1 vote in the West Hollywood City Council. It allows for workers who were laid off because of the pandemic to get their jobs back. It also codifies protections against sexual harassment, amid myriad recent reports of abuse in hotels across the city. Furthermore, the ordinance sets a limit of 3,500 square feet for a worker to clean each day in hotels with 40 or more rooms, and 4,000 square feet in hotels with 39 or fewer rooms.

“Our fight is a righteous fight,” Norma Hernandez, a Guatemalan immigrant who was a housekeeper at the Mondrian for 12 years, told Knock LA. “After months of coming together and advocating, today we came out with a victory.”

Workers met at Kings Road Park before marching down Santa Monica Boulevard. They carried signs and chanted with plungers, brooms, and other housekeeping supplies. After shutting down traffic at the intersection of Santa Monica and Sweetzer, workers demonstrated by folding sheets and dressing beds on the street. Upon arrival at West Hollywood City Hall, the union set up a watch party to stream the vote going on inside.

“This all started back in March of 2020, when many of my co-workers and myself were laid off for the pandemic. First, we were sad, and we didn’t know what to do. A few months later, when we realized we weren’t getting our jobs back, we decided to come together,” Hernandez said. “This policy helps us get our jobs back and get us the protections we need. We need to be fairly compensated for the heavy workloads we take.”

Under this ordinance, when housekeepers’ work exceeds limits, they will be paid double for their entire shift. The ordinance mirrors worker protection policies in Long Beach, Santa Monica, Oakland, and Seattle. The ordinance was endorsed by Local 11, which represents about 32,000 workers employed in hotels, restaurants, airports, sports arenas, and convention centers throughout Southern California and Arizona.

Unsurprisingly, the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce took particular exception to this part of the ordinance. Vocal opponents included the Kimpton La Peer Hotel, where rates begin at $400 before taxes and fees. “It would be just devastating, considering what we’ve been through, and how hard we fought,” Kimpton General Manager Nick Rimedio said to CBS Los Angeles, referring to the myth of “labor shortages” that this ordinance would create. 

For a hyperlocality eager to flaunt its progressive history, West Hollywood was overdue to recognize dignity in labor, UNITE HERE researcher Danielle Wilson told Knock LA.

a woman in a maid uniform makes up a folding bed in a street intersection while a crowd of unite here local 11 supporters in red shirts watch
Photo courtesy of UNITE HERE Local 11.

“The question to West Hollywood City Council is, ‘what are housekeepers in this city worth?’ It’s on the desks of the City Council, and it’s on them to decide if they believe these women and these workers.”

The lone NO vote was cast by Councilmember Lauren Meister.

“Today is a great day. Finally, we’re here to get justice for housekeepers,” Soledad Garcia told Knock LA after the demonstration. “[The management] is getting a lot of money, and they’re lying. They’re saying people don’t want to come back to work, and that’s not true. But this was a union effort. Leadership got people to realize why they should be here today. We have people here from Orange County, Pasadena, and Long Beach, driving all the way to make sure the city did the right thing.”

Garcia worked as a hotel housekeeper in Santa Monica before joining UNITE HERE as an organizer. I met her two days before this action, at a similar picket at the Chateau Marmont [Disclosure: the Chateau Marmont action was co-sponsored by Ground Game LA, which is associated with Knock LA]. Though the hotel straddles the famous bend of Sunset Boulevard that defines West Hollywood for many people, the Chateau is technically in the City of Los Angeles — meaning it’s not affected by the ordinance. Local 11 was there in protest of another move from the local hotel industry — the Chateau Marmont appears to be staying well below capacity so they don’t have to rehire workers laid off during the pandemic.

Local 11 began organizing the Chateau’s workers before the COVID-19 outbreak led to shutdowns in Los Angeles, Garcia explained. This series of protests began in April 2021, and in July of this year, Local 11 filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board due to surveillance of union activity.

“This struggle is very personal to me,” Garcia said. “I know what it feels like, to be a housekeeper in this industry. That’s why I fight. I know that if we fight, we can win, for ourselves and our families.” The fight was undressed and straightforward come Monday night in West Hollywood: business interests against labor rights. It delivered a rare win for the latter, so frequently ignored and abused to satisfy out-of-towners with expendable income. When faced with the will of the people and an organized, vocal opposition, the hotel industry doesn’t seem to want to scrap. Instead they fold like, well, hotel-quality linens. So, as the bloodless tourism industrial machine ramps back up, concerned Angelenos can join the Chateau picket all summer, and get loud until the City of Los Angeles adopts similar protections.

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