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Hotel Bel-Air reopens to protest by activists, ex-union workers

Arriving guests are greeted by about 300 protesters, including Occupy L.A. demonstrators and former Unite Here Local 11 workers laid off when the iconic hotel in West L.A. closed for a renovation in 2009.

October 15, 2011|By Hugo Martín, Los Angeles Times
  • Union member Alyssa Giachino dresses as a swan, the signature symbol of the posh Bel-Air Hotel in West L.A., during a protest Friday that coincided with the hotel's reopening after a two-year renovation. Police said the loud but peaceful protest drew about 300 activists carrying signs and shouting outside the hotel entrance.
Union member Alyssa Giachino dresses as a swan, the signature symbol of… (Luis Sinco, Los Angeles…)

After a two-year renovation, the iconic Hotel Bel-Air in West Los Angeles reopened to a spirited protest by about 300 activists and former union workers who were laid off when construction began in 2009 and were never rehired.

As guests arrived, they were greeted by the demonstration Friday afternoon organized by Unite Here Local 11, whose leaders contended the hotel used the multimillion-dollar upgrade to force union workers out. The union activists were joined by protesters from Occupy L.A., who rode two buses from downtown Los Angeles, where they have been demonstrating against corporate greed.

Police said the loud but peaceful protest drew about 300 activists carrying signs and shouting outside the hotel entrance. Later the protesters moved to nearby Sunset Boulevard, where Unite Here International President John Wilhelm addressed the crowd. "It's the workers who made this hotel a five-star hotel," the labor leader said. "For these people to be laid off, there's something dreadfully wrong in America."

The picketers did not slow the stream of guests arriving at the hotel, protected by dozens of Los Angeles Police Department officers. Hotel officials said no guest canceled because of the protest and all the available rooms were full. "There has been no impact here," said hotel spokeswoman Alisha Mahon.

Among the protesters were Los Angeles City Council members Bill Rosendahl and Paul Koretz, who both promised to boycott the hotel until it agrees to rehire the union workers.

The hotel renovation included upgrades to all 91 rooms and suites, the bar, its restaurant and private dining rooms. The hotel added 15 new rooms, including 12 built into a hillside on the property and three "loft guest rooms" adjacent to the new 4,134-square-foot spa, dubbed La Prairie. Room rates start at $565 a night, up from $395 before the renovation. Rates for the hillside suites range from $1,900 to $4,800 per night.

When Hotel Bel-Air closed for the upgrade, about 250 union workers were laid off. The hotel offered a severance package but not a guarantee to be rehired. In the last few weeks, more than 100 of those workers applied for their old positions but only about a dozen have been rehired, according to union organizers.

One of the protesters, Martin Tabares, said he worked as an assistant banquet manager at the hotel for five years before he was laid off when the hotel closed. He applied for his old position but was told it was given to someone with more experience. "It's ridiculous," said Tabares, who is still looking for work.

hugo.martin@latimes.com

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