Union employees at the Hyatt West Hollywood, a legendary rock 'n' roll hotel on the Sunset Strip, went on strike Thursday as contract negotiations between workers and owners at seven prominent Los Angeles County hotels faltered.
Most of the 120 union members at the Hyatt hotel and restaurant, including bellhops, front desk clerks, housekeepers and telephone operators, are honoring the picket line, said Tom Walsh, secretary-treasurer of Unite Here Local 11. He expects the strike to last two weeks.
"The hotel is open and operating normally," said Fred Muir, spokesman for the Los Angeles Hotel Employer's Council, which represents the owners of the large hotels in union contract negotiations. The Hyatt will be fully staffed by Saturday, using nonunion replacement workers if necessary, he said.
Hotel owners voted Thursday to lock out union employees at the six other hotels at an unspecified date in response to the strike.
Those hotels may also be subject to strikes, Walsh said.
The hotels involved in the contract talks are Hyatt West Hollywood, Westin Century Plaza, Sheraton Universal, Wilshire Grand, Millennium Biltmore, Regent Beverly Wilshire and Westin Bonaventure.
"The two chains controlling these negotiations are Starwood and Hyatt, so we decided to choose Hyatt first," he said. Starwood owns Westin and Sheraton, among others.
The two sides have been negotiating since April 2004 but have not agreed on several points, including some funds that were deducted from workers' paychecks from July to February to help pay for health insurance. The union also wants the new contract to expire in 2006.
Muir said the hotel owners would return the money deducted for health insurance — about $300 per employee — if the union accepted their offer, which is on the table until Saturday. The hotels offered workers a $2.50 hourly raise, about 22%, over four years and a $1,000 signing bonus to full-time workers who don't collect tips, he said.
Walsh said the insurance deductions were improper. "It was another way of trying to force us to accept their contract," he said.
The union wants contracts in major cities across the country to expire at the same time to gain bargaining clout with national hotel chains. Contracts in New York, Boston and Chicago are set to expire next year, and San Francisco hotels are in a standoff similar to the one in Los Angeles.
I came by with a few other Greens to walk the picket line for a while between 5 and 6. There were enough people there that they had two lines going at once, and sherriffs had closed one lane of traffic in front of the hotel. Maria Elena Durazo, the head of HERE Local 11, and State Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez spoke briefly to the crowd. Núñez is so charismatic that when he switched to Spanish I could still understand him.