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Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Union workers to rally in LA for better wages, benefits – Orange County Register

Scores L.A. County workers employed in hospitality, tourism, food service, entertainment and other industries plan to rally in downtown Los Angeles on Friday, May 26 to call for higher wages, better benefits and safer workloads as they struggle to keep pace with high housing costs.

The union employees, whose labor contracts have expired or are set to expire this year, are looking to “lift the low standards” amid a major housing crisis. Their contracts are overseen by nine labor unions that collectively represent more than 200,000 workers.

They include SEIU Local 721, Writers Guild of America, International Brotherhood of Teamsters and Unite Here Local 11, among others.

Yvonne Wheeler, president of the L.A. County Federation of Labor, said Friday’s event will allow the employees to speak with one powerful and unified voice.

“As gas, food and housing continue to skyrocket, Los Angeles’ thousands of unionized workers will be uplifting each other to demand a fair share to provide housing and food for them and their families in the second most expensive market in the U.S.,” Wheeler said in a statement.

Employees from the various unions plan to gather at 5 p.m. Friday at the corner of 12th St. and Figueroa where a variety of labor leaders will speak.

Following that, they will march to a California Democratic convention that’s being held at the JW Marriott hotel.

The workers’ concerns are reflected in the “hospitality worker bill of rights” ordinances that have passed in such cities as L.A., Santa Monica, Glendale and West Hollywood.

Those measures have increased base wages, but employees say it’s not enough.

L.A.’s ordinance, for example, boosted the minimum wage for employees working in hotels with 60 or more guest rooms to $18.86 an hour, up from $17.64. But Unite Here Local 11 said an employee earning that wage would still have to work 17 hours a day to afford a two-bedroom apartment in the city.

Christopher Lillian, a food stand attendant at Universal Studios Hollywood, makes $15.96 an hour and says he’s barely scraping by.

“As far as housing, the only reason I’m not homeless is the generosity of friends who rent a spare room to me at a reasonable rate,” the 36-year-old Glendale resident said. He’s among 2,000 employees at Universal Studios who are represented by Unite Here.

“We’re trying to suss out what a liveable wage would be, but we don’t have a number yet,” he said. “But to put it bluntly, anything more than we’re making would be welcome.”

An Anaheim ordinance that would hike the minimum wage for employees at hotels and event centers to $25 an hour is slated to come before voters as an initiative.

Pete Hillan, a spokesman for the California Hotel & Lodging Association, said it would have heavy economic impacts for small family-owned hotels in the city and Anaheim’s overall budget.

“If they go to an immediate $25 minimum wage, that’s a 63% increase from the current minimum of $15.50 an hour,” he said. “That’s an extraordinary amount. It would lead to higher costs at small hotels and put some of them at risk of going out of business.”

A bill that would boost wages and promises to improve working conditions for California’s fast-food workers has been put on hold until the November 2024 election when voters will decide its outcome.

Union leaders say U.S. hotels and airports received $15 billion in pandemic bailouts, while only a fifth of that money went to workers.

“Coming out the pandemic, many of these companies are making record profits,” Unite Here co-President Kurt Peterson said. “We’re going to say with one voice that the people who work here and make this city prosperous have a right to afford to live here.”

A recent Unite Here survey shows 67% of Local 11 members agree or strongly agree that their employers have taken advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic. Eighty-nine percent said it’s crucial that they have affordable health coverage and 73% say they need to fight for fairer workloads.

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