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Korean Groups Back Workers : Labor: A coalition is pressing the L.A. Hilton's owner not to let a management firm displace hotel staff, most of whom are Latinos.

November 18, 1994|K. CONNIE KANG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A coalition of Korean American organizations has come to the aid of union workers, predominantly Latinos, who could lose their jobs if the owner of the Downtown Los Angeles Hilton & Towers changes management firms.

The coalition is exerting pressure on the South Korean owner of the hotel not only because "it is the morally correct thing to do, but because (the company's) decision can have a negative impact on the local Korean American community," said Paul S. Lee, a community organizer with Korean Immigrant Workers Advocates.

Regardless of who takes over the management of the hotel, owned by Hanjin International Corp., the union contracts should be honored "out of a sense of justice and dignity" for hundreds of loyal employees, Lee said.

Last month 575 hotel workers, most of whom perform housekeeping or kitchen duties, were notified that their employment would be terminated Jan. 1.

The reason, according to the notice from the hotel's general manager, is the Dec. 31 expiration of the contract between Hanjin and the Hilton Hotels Corp., which has managed the facility since Hanjin acquired it in 1989. Hanjin is a subsidiary of one of South Korea's biggest conglomerates, which also owns Korean Air.

A Hanjin spokesman said it is premature for workers to worry about losing their jobs because the company and the Hilton are trying to work out an agreement. He said that the management contract has been extended through Jan. 31 while the two sides continue their talks.

On Wednesday about two dozen hotel workers, union representatives and their supporters went to City Hall to talk with council members who are expected to adopt a resolution urging Hanjin to retain the hotel employees at their current positions and wages, which for most range from $7 to $10 an hour.

The involvement of the Korean company in a dispute involving mostly Latino workers set off alarms among Korean American activists who have been concentrating on improving relations with other ethnic groups since the Los Angeles riots.

"We became concerned that the situation could turn into a racial issue, and negatively impact our community," said Roy Hong, executive director of Korean Immigrant Workers Advocates.

Hong was instrumental in enlisting the support of other Korean American organizations. His group and the Korean American Inter-Agency Council, a consortium of nine organizations, have participated in news conferences and other events publicizing the case. Last Saturday union members and their supporters demonstrated in front of the Korean Air terminal at Los Angeles International Airport.

Jennifer Skurnik, campaign coordinator for the Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees Local 11, said Hanjin officials should not even consider terminating the employees. "Don't they know that workers in this city will not put up with that? Hilton workers fought for (their) jobs and benefits," she said.

Keith Grossman, a Hanjin spokesman, said the company has gone out of its way to be accommodating to the hotel employees. To alleviate the fears of workers, he said, Hanjin sent out a memo informing workers that in the event the management contract with Hilton is not renewed, Hanjin plans to "rehire all or substantially all" of the current employees.

Furthermore, Grossman said, even though the company is not legally obligated, it has agreed to recognize all five unions involved.

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But Maria Elena Durazo, president of Local 11, who enlisted the help of the local Korean organizations, said she wants promises from the company in writing.

Hanjin's Oct. 28 notice states that rehired employees would be "subject to an application and interview process and . . . a brief introductory period."

Ken Pierson, a bell captain, complained after 25 years of working there, he should not be treated like a new employee. "I don't like their attitude," Pierson said. "They're treating us like chattel."

Felisa Quisora, a housekeeper at the Hilton, said she was "so sad" when she got the termination notice. "After working so hard for all these years--we don't deserve this," she said.

Two years ago, when the Koreana Co. of South Korea bought the former Hyatt Wilshire Hotel and fired 150 union employees, Local 11 joined the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance and other Asian community groups in fighting the company. Union members picketed the hotel for almost a year before the dismissed workers were rehired.

The latest coalition is the first significant effort by Korean American community organizations to create a multiethnic group to support workers.

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