Monday, May 15, 2006
WORKERS TAKE ON HILTON AT LAX
At the website for the Hilton Hotels Corporation it states, "If you have a passion for service and hospitality, there's a special place for you at the Hilton Family of hotels."
Apparently you are supposed to in point of fact, "know your place" if you intend to work for Hilton.
More than 100 suspended workers and their allies picketed at the Hilton Los Angeles Airport hotel Sunday to protest working conditions and demand their jobs back.
A coordinator for hotel workers union Unite Here says the hotel's management suspended the employees in an effort to keep them from unionizing. The union says the workers were suspended when they complained to management about disciplinary action against a leader in the workers' effort to organize.
That leader, Sergio Reyes, was suspended, then fired.
The suspensions at the Hilton, which at 1,234 rooms is the second-largest hotel in Los Angeles County, came in the midst of a heated campaign to raise wages and organize workers at 13 airport-area hotels by Unite Here, the hotel and restaurant workers' union.
UNITE (formerly the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees) and HERE (Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union) merged on July 8, 2004 forming UNITE HERE. The union represents more than 450,000 active members and more than 400,000 retirees throughout North America.
UNITE HERE boasts a diverse membership, comprised largely of immigrants and including high percentages of African-American, Latino, and Asian-American workers. The majority of UNITE HERE members are women.
The following comes from the Daily Breeze and was printed before the Sunday protest.
70 Hilton workers suspended
Employees at nonunion facility near LAX are barred after a demonstration seeking improved working conditions earlier this week. L.A. Councilwoman Hahn leads some who try to re-enter.
The ongoing struggle over unionizing Los Angeles International Airport-area hotels took a contentious turn Friday as the LAX Hilton suspended about 70 workers for taking part in a demonstration, prompting a union to file charges with a federal labor board.
Unions and activist groups have held a series of labor actions at the hotel this week as part of a wider campaign of linking revitalization efforts in the Century Corridor with improved working conditions. The stretch of Century Boulevard leading to LAX from the San Diego (405) Freeway has one of the county's highest concentrations of hotel beds -- and no union contracts.
The situation escalated Friday morning when City Councilwoman Janice Hahn led scores of the suspended employees in an attempt to re-enter the hotel, only to be rebuffed by security guards.
Eventually the dispute spilled onto Century Boulevard as politicians and labor leaders held a midday rally in front of a picket line of more than 100 workers and activists.
"These are good, loyal Hilton employees. They're the face of hospitality for Los Angeles," Hahn said. "I think (the hotel) totally overreacted to the situation, and I think they're treating them unfairly."
The suspensions followed a demonstration earlier this week in which employees took a coordinated break from work and tried to meet with hotel managers. Workers said they wanted to discuss an earlier disciplinary action against an employee who supports the union drive.
The complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board on Friday accuses the hotel of violating federal labor law by retaliating against employees engaged in protected activity.
The hotel's general manager, Grant Coonley, denied that any of the disciplinary actions were in response to organizing activity. The initial employee was suspended for job-performance issues, he said, and so was the larger group this week.
"We had 67 employees that refused to go back to work and tied up the employee cafeteria for 2½ hours," Coonley said. "They were told several times to go back to work and go home and they refused."
The employees, who represent about 10 percent of the hotel's work force, have been told they will find out Monday when they can come back to work.
El Segundo resident Patricia Simmons, who has been a waitress at the hotel for 19 years and makes $6.75 per hour plus tips, said the loss of several work days is hitting her family hard.
Simmons said she took part in the demonstration only during her lunch hour. Co-worker Concepcion Ortiz, who earns $9 per hour as a parking cashier, said a supervisor approved her taking a break to go to the demonstration but she was still suspended.
"So many people have been humiliated," Ortiz said. The demonstrations "are important for their respect."
The rising tensions come as the city is considering both beautifying the Century Corridor and requiring its hotels to better compensate their workers and to retain them for a time when the businesses change hands.
Hahn, who represents the Harbor Area but who has gotten involved in the issue as chairwoman of the council's Trade, Commerce and Tourism Committee, said the confrontation may make it more difficult for the parties to work together. But she still wants to push for new landscaping and a nearby conference center to draw business.
The councilwoman, who spent part of Friday morning monitoring individual workers' debriefings with Hilton supervisors, said she told the general manager as much in their meeting. "I really wanted to work with him but I made it clear the key to the success of the hotel is the workers," she said.