Employees of the Hilton Los Angeles Airport filed a lawsuit Tuesday alleging that the hotel's workload did not allow for breaks and that workers were not paid for all of their hours, in violation of labor laws.
The lawsuit seeks class-action status for roughly 1,500 current and former LAX Hilton employees.
Hilton spokesman Ruben Gonzalez declined to comment, saying the hotel had not yet received the lawsuit.
Adela Barrientos, a housekeeper at the hotel for 10 years, said she was required to clean, straighten up and restock 16 rooms in an eight-hour shift. She said she gave up rest breaks other than a 30-minute lunch so that she could finish her work. Even without breaks, she said, it's tough to get it all done.
"It's practically impossible," she said. "The job is exhausting. At the end of the day, you're spent."
Barrientos was one of four hotel employees who spoke at a news conference arranged by Unite Here, a hospitality industry union that has been working for years to organize employees at the hotels in the airport corridor.
The Hilton has fought the effort long and hard and has accused the union of manufacturing lawsuits and other actions to create public pressure.
Four other hotels have agreed not to oppose the union's efforts and to recognize it in collective bargaining if a majority of employees sign up for representation. At least two of them have entered into employment contracts with newly unionized workers.
Randy Renick, a Pasadena attorney who is representing the Hilton employees, said he was suing the hotel and its owner, Fortuna Enterprises, seeking to require the Hilton to give employees breaks, pay back wages to employees who worked through their breaks and pay penalties for violating the law. The suit also alleges that employees were not properly paid for overtime when they worked extra-long days or weeks.
"It is unfortunate in today's economic times that employees are forced to file suit to receive the wages for the hours that they worked," Renick said.
He had previously filed similar actions against other hotels in the airport corridor that he said the companies had agreed to settle.
Renick sat at a conference table with hotel employees on either side of him who said they were seeking fair pay and reasonable workloads.
Miguel Vargas has worked as a waiter at the Hilton for 17 years. He said that about two years ago, managers began requiring employees to fill out time cards indicating when they took breaks. He said he was often so busy that he didn't have time to step away for a 10-minute break, which the law requires after four hours of work.
For his dedication, Vargas said, he was rewarded with a reprimand. He said management disciplined workers who didn't write down that they took breaks -- whether they really did or not -- but kept the property so short-staffed that employees couldn't realistically take them. He and others said they began openly falsifying their time sheets to avoid being written up.
"I take a lot of pride in serving my clients every day, but I feel like I can't win," Vargas said. "If I take breaks, I get in trouble, and if I don't take breaks I get in trouble."