Hotel workers throughout Orange County, and Southern California, might go on strike as they demand a $5 an hour increase to their wages.
Unite Here Local 11, union representing 32,000 hotel workers in Southern California and Arizona, are calling on workers to authorize a strike on June 8, according to Ada Briceño, co-president of the union.
Briceño said in a Wednesday phone interview workers are getting squeezed by housing costs and need higher pay.
“They’re sleeping on other people’s couches, they’re living in their cars and they’re one paycheck away from homelessness,” she said, adding that she is confident they will authorize a strike.
“We’ve got to fight for more. As leaders in the union, we feel it’s no longer acceptable to have low wages in our industry – folks that make the hotel industry profitable on the backs of our workers.”
It comes as the Orange County Grand Jury found there may be as many 30,000 homeless children throughout the county – a number not reflected in official counts because couch surfing, living room-to-room in motels and other unstable living situations aren’t factored in.
Pete Hillan, a spokesperson for the California Hotel and Lodging Association, said in a phone interview Wednesday, that calling for a strike without letting negotiations run its course is “jumping the gun.”
He also said a strike ahead of the high summer season will jeopardize the paychecks of other workers.
“Unite Here is taking deeply needed revenue from other workers that support hospitality – restaurants, bars, entertainers, and more importantly, it’s taking away much needed (hotel tax revenue) and other tax revenue from the city,” Hillan said.
Laura Cunningham, President and CEO of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, and the Anaheim/Orange County Hotel and Lodging Association did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
Briceño said contracts are being negotiated with hotels throughout Southern California including: the Marriott Irvine, Irvine Hilton, the Balboa Bay Club, Hilton Anaheim, Sheraton Park, Costa Mesa Hilton, Laguna Cliff and the Embassy Suites in Irvine.
She said the union is pushing to get $5 more an hour for workers in the first year of the new contract, but didn’t give specifics on what the hotel owners are offering.
According to Briceño, the average pay for a room attendant in Orange County is $17.50 an hour.
Contracts are expected to expire on June 30.
Briceño’s union has been leading an effort to get as many cities in Orange County to adopt an ordinance that would increase the minimum wage for hospitality workers to $25 and aims to provide greater protections for hotel workers.
The latest OC city to take up the debate was Anaheim – home to the Disneyland resort. In a couple of court affidavits, FBI agents alleged resort interests wield outsized influence over policymaking at city hall.
The union gathered enough signatures from residents to force Anaheim city officials to debate their ordinance.
But earlier this month, Anaheim City Council members voted to study the proposed ordinance before either sending it to next year’s ballot or outright adopting it.
The decision was made after hoteliers pushed back on the proposal, raising concerns it would be detrimental to their industry and called for a study.
At the same time, hotel workers pushed for adopting the ordinance to help them survive with rising housing costs.
Officials also voted to craft their own hospitality workers protection ordinance which does not include any wage increase for hotel workers at the request of Councilwoman Natalie Rubalcava.
The study on Unite Here’s ordinance is expected to return to the Anaheim City Council on June 13.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
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