Hundreds of hotel workers rallied along the Sunset Strip on Friday, warning Los Angeles-area employers that they would not accept pay cuts, reduced benefits or other givebacks.
"We should be earning more, not less," said Morena Hernandez, a maid at the Andaz, the upscale hostelry that was targeted in Friday's protest. "We can't afford a cut in benefits."
The noisy but peaceful protest organized by Local 11 of Unite Here took place on the narrow sidewalk in front of the Andaz, formerly the West Hollywood Hyatt, which reopened in January after Hyatt refurbished the property.
Traffic slowed along the busy stretch of Sunset Boulevard as motorists honked horns in support and turned to watch the demonstrators. The union bused in supporters for the rush-hour protest.
The demonstrations were meant to send a message to management at 21 union hotels in the Los Angeles area, where contracts covering 4,200 workers have expired this year, the union says. Local 11 says it is resisting demands for wage freezes, benefit cuts and other givebacks from management officials, citing the effects of the recession.
"We can't allow Hyatt to take away everything we've won over the years," said Javier Lopez, a banquet attendant at the Century Hyatt Century Plaza.
The 21 union hotels where contracts have expired include several major chains, including Hyatt, Marriott, Hilton, Renaissance and Holiday Inn. Workers at most Los Angeles-area hotels remain non-unionized.
Protesters called on management to recognize their contribution to the area tourism industry, which is among the region's biggest income generators. Many employed in the industry are low-wage immigrant workers.
"The Hyatt and other hotels have the opportunity to take the high road, providing strong union contracts with livable wages and affordable health benefits," said Lorena Lopez, a Local 11 organizer and former hotel worker.
Michel Morauw, general manager of the Andaz, called the protests "premature" and "regrettable." He noted that negotiations had just begun with Andaz workers, whose contract expired Nov. 30. Key issues such as benefits had hardly been discussed, he said.
"We have an exceptionally loyal workforce," said Morauw, sitting inside the lobby. "They show a rare sense of ownership."
But Morauw expressed fears that such actions could reduce business, costing both the hotel and its workers in a difficult time.
"In this economic recession, the tourism industry, and hotels in particular, have suffered enormously," he said. "It's a time for everybody to get together and work hard."