It’s been a grueling, hot summer of strikes.
Over 300,000 workers this year alone said, enough is enough.
Picked up a picket sign and marched to show their worth.
It’s impacted workers we see every day, like UPS drivers, transit and bus workers, UC Irvine workers and graduate students. Currently, actors and screenwriters are all on strike.
It’s an act that has deep roots in America and takes on a special significance this year on the first Monday of September.
For many, it’s just an excuse to bbq or take a day off from school.
But the holiday is meant to have Americans take a moment, pause, and think about the labor movement and the many labor protections enjoyed today as a workforce.
Things like the weekend.
Or days off like this.
In Orange County on this Labor Day, there are many families who have logged time on a picket line this year.
This year, hotel workers across the county have been the most active.
Ada Briceño, co-president of Unite Here 11 – a union representing Southern California hotel employees, said Thursday strikes are expected to continue this Labor Day in Los Angeles.
“Many fought so hard for labor to exist and for protections for strikers that I think it’s a moment to remember what the labor movement has created,” she said. “I can’t think of a more powerful way than the ultimate sacrifice for workers being out on strike and that’s where we’ll be.”
Workers kicked off the first wave of strikes at hotels across Southern California including the Laguna Cliffs Marriott Hotel ahead of the July 4th weekend demanding better pay.
A rotating series of strikes and picketing started after Unite Here 11 authorized a walk out with a 96% vote in June as workers struggled to afford rent amid rising housing costs.
Strikes are when workers completely walk off the job and protest. Picketing without an active strike is when workers stay on the job and protest during their free time.
“Picketing, you can picket before work during your break after work, that’s ok, but when you are on strike, you are not working, you are picketing constantly,” said Maria Hernandez, a spokesperson for Unite Here! Local 11 .
The strikes started at 18 hotels in the region before pausing and starting up again a few days later at other hotels in OC and Los Angeles. Workers from 32 hotels joined the first two rounds of strikes in July.
About a week after independence day, hotel workers in Irvine and Anaheim joined the second round of strikes.
Briceño said she has lost track of whether it’s been five rounds of strikes or six at this point but that workers at 46 hotels in Southern California have walked out this summer – some of them multiple times.
“It’s been hot. It’s been filled with solidarity amongst other unions, amongst the community,” Briceño said. “It’s tough because they’re obviously sacrificing wages being out there in the heat and walking for many, many hours back and forth picketing.”
Prior to the strikes, the Coordinated Bargaining Group, which represents 44 hotels in LA and OC, filed unfair labor practices charges against Unite Here 11, alleging the union was not bargaining in good faith.
In many cases, workers endured violence and verbal abuse on the picket line.
In a picket in Dana Point at Laguna Cliffs Marriott Hotel, altercations were reported by Unite Here! Local 11.
In July one celebrity chef, John Tesar, was recorded in a video circulated by the hotel union telling a worker, “You’re a lazy pendeja; take your union and shove it up your ass.”
Tesar later apologized for his behavior on social media.
Another housekeeper reported being punched in the head by a guest staying at the hotel.
“I was in shock as the punch came out of the blue,” recalls Emilse Pineda “I reported the incident to hotel security, but they did nothing to help identify the man or remove him.”
“I felt almost drunk and woozy and had headaches over the next several days. The day after the punch, I passed out and the paramedics were called. As far as I know, the hotel has done nothing about this incident,” said Pineda through a press release sent to Voice of OC.
Unite Here 11 filed unfair labor practice charges against the Coordinated Bargaining Group in response to the violence.
“The hotel industry tried to break our strike with their violence,” Briceño said. “Workers are determined more than ever to continue this fight until they win and get a dignified contract to keep the roof over their heads.”
That fight continues in Orange County.
On Sunday, Sept. 3, a day before Labor Day, workers at the Anaheim Hilton and Sheraton Park Hotel walked off the job.
“Hundreds walked out and they’ll keep fighting until they get what they’re asking for,” said Maria Hernandez, a spokesperson for Unite Here! Local 11.
Unionized hotel workers are asking for better working conditions and pay.
They’ve called for $5 an hour more the first year of their new agreement, followed by a $3 bump in their second and third year to help cover rising housing costs.
“I’m asking for a fair wage and to be treated in dignity. They don’t respect us, and they don’t treat us well,” Maria Hernandez, 35, said in Spanish. Hernandez works as a waitress at the hotel, supporting four children.
Hoteliers have offered wage increases of $2.50 per hour in the first 12 months and $6.25 over 4 years as well as an increase of up to $1.50 per hour for healthcare benefits over 4 years.
Workers say they are losing their livelihoods and have no other option than to strike.
Hotel maids like Marina Luna sometimes have to work three jobs in one day just to make ends meet, cleaning offices and houses after her hotel job.
Luna also acknowledges that having health insurance is difficult.
“Sometimes they don’t even schedule us for enough hours, and I can’t get insurance,” says Luna.
Luna hopes change is on the horizon.
Meanwhile, Anaheim voters are expected to decide in a special election next month on a Unite Here-backed measure to increase the minimum wage for hotel workers to $25 an hour.
And as that election approaches, the fight still continues.
Advocating for better pay and conditions for workers is something Americans have been doing since the late 1800s.
Labor unions and activists are why we all have the day off.
Before it was a federal holiday, the first Labor Day was celebrated by the Central Labor Union in New York on Tuesday, September 5, 1882.
Leading up to the 20th century, strikes – at times deadly to workers – were a common occurrence.
On May 4, 1886, a labor protest arose at the Chicago Haymarket Square.
Workers demanded an 8-hour workday, safer working conditions, and higher wages.
The demonstration turned violent, with police and protestors clashing.
At least 8 people reportedly died.
Following the Haymarket Riot in 1889, May Day, also known as Workers Day, was designated as an annual celebration for every May 1, created by an international federation of socialist groups.
It took an 1894 nationwide railroad strike that negatively affected railroad operations across the western United States to see the creation of an American day of recognition for the worker.
During the walkout, federal troops were sent by then-President Cleveland on a federal injunction to disrupt the picket.
Around 30 fatalities occurred.
President Cleveland then put Labor Day on the calendar as a peacemaking gesture, showing local recognition for workers.
A host of other historic labor movements created the protections that we have in the workplace today.
Moments like the 1881 Atlanta’s Washerman Strike, the 1892 Homestead Strike and the 1894 Strikes of Cripple Creek. The 1830s brought the first union of working women – Lowell Mill Women and in the early 1900s, similar actions continued with the 1909 McKees Rock Strike and the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. In modern times, one of the biggest actions was the Great Postal Strike of 1970.
In the 1960’s, labor also got a new face with the farmworker movement.
Led by Cesar Chavez, a labor rights activist Chicano who led the way to diversify the organized labor movement, those activists advocate for better wages, and working conditions with the United Farm Workers Union.
In August of 1972, The United Farm Workers became the first recognized farm workers union recognized into the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations.
This year, hotel union representatives say the workers authorized the largest industry-wide strike in U.S. history.
Here’s a look at strike actions from this past summer.
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