By Mark Pattison for the Catholic Labor Network
Thousands of workers at two dozen hotels in the Los Angeles area won contracts by the end of 2023 as UNITE HERE Local 11 has waged a campaign since April to win improved pay and benefits for union members – but thousands more are still waiting for an agreement.
Eréndira Salcedo, a housekeeper at the Hilton Pasadena and a UNITE HERE shop steward, is one of those workers. She’s one of 15,000 hotel workers represented by the local.
“The salary has been a main issue because we are not paid enough to live,” Salcedo, a native of Michoacan state in Mexico, said through an interpreter. “What we’ve also been fighting for is health insurance, a pension fund when we retire, and opportunities for growth.”
To prepare for a strike, UNITE HERE members at the Hilton Pasadena walked out four different times, for shorter durations. They also brought attention to their situation to the larger community by giving a new twist to “las posadas,” a nine-day devotion popular for centuries among Latin Americans that re-enacts Joseph and Mary’s quest to find an inn where the Christ Child could be born.
The hotel workers didn’t need nine evenings to make their point. Instead of selecting houses to play the role of inns, “we made different stations. The Hilton Pasadena was the first place, the Hyatt Place Pasadena and then at City Hall,” Salcedo said. She served as a reader at the Hilton.
“We were working on Colorado Avenue. It’s the main thoroughfare in Pasadena where we were doing the procession,” she added.
“It was an experience like no other. We thought it was relevant. We were looking for peace in our homes, and it was an experience that brought us and our coworkers together.”
Community support is tangible. “People come out, sometimes they bring us water, they bring us burritos. We appreciate people from outside the union who have shown their support,” Salcedo said.
While UNITE HERE urges would-be hotel guests to cancel their reservations if they find that their hotel has been struck – some hotels are using an app to recruit scabs – hotel chains are actually operating fewer of the hotels that bear their name, and make their money licensing their brand name. The Hilton Pasadena, for instance, is operated by a company called Aimbridge Hospitality.
Salcedo believes the workers’ actions will ultimately convince Aimbridge to come to terms. “Yes, of course. Claro que si. I have total faith that they’re getting close,” she said. “I hope this will push the company to finally sign a contract.
Workers at the Hilton Pasadena went on strike for the fifth time on New Year’s Eve, just in time to throw the hotel into chaos on the eve of the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day, one of college football’s premier events. Like the previous four walkouts, it’s a short-term strike, but nobody was saying how long they intended to stay out.
“A lot of the guests, once they go back in,” Salcedo said, “have been very supportive. I believe that we’re fighting for our rights, and that we’re entitled to those rights.”