L.A. Workers Are Feeling Emboldened as Unions Pressure Employers in California

Two months after going on strike, the writers are entrenched outside their Southern California studios, billboards being held up in the traffic. In many parts of America they will have a lonely wake.

Not Los Angeles.

The megaports of Los Angeles and Long Beach suspended operations for weeks until West Coast dockworkers reached a preliminary contract agreement in mid-June. Schools across the city were closed for three days this spring, leaving bus drivers, cafeteria workers and teachers.

Labor unions representing about 15,000 hotel workers in Los Angeles now threaten to go on strike this July 4th weekend as the summer tourist season is in full swing. And more than 160,000 actors are poised to shut down Hollywood productions if they don’t reach new deals later this month.

Nationally, unions are in trouble, but in California it’s easier for a while.

“We call it a ‘hot summer of work,'” said Lorena Gonzalez, chief executive of the California Federation of Labor, which represents more than 2.1 million members statewide. “There are sparks and fires everywhere, but we’re not going to put them down in California. We’re fanning the flames,” she said.

California has long been a working-class state, with Democrats controlling the state government and most of its major cities. Despite a string of triumphs for workers in recent years, including a $15.50 an hour minimum wage that more than doubles the federal tax rate, workers are feeling more pressure than ever from inflation, housing shortages and technological disruption. It has said.

With California’s unemployment rate still below 5%, workers know they have an impact. And many contracts have expired this year, forcing employers in California to negotiate with unions as they watch picket lines form daily in Los Angeles.about half major work stoppage It will be held in the state in 2023.

The hotel workers’ main contracts expired on Friday, but the Actors Guild announced it would extend the expiring contracts until July 12, giving them time to continue negotiations.

But hotel workers could be out as early as this weekend. Hoteliers may get by with a short-term strike, but a long-term strike could deter tourists from visiting Los Angeles during the busy summer season and undermine convention business, which has recovered since the pandemic began. said Kevin Crowden. , Chief Global Strategist at the Milken Institute, an economic think tank based in Santa Monica, California.

The simultaneous strike of hotel workers, writers and actors will first affect Los Angeles businesses that rely on the region’s distinctive tourism and Hollywood industries. And they can have far-reaching ramifications beyond Los Angeles. California’s economy lost $2.1 billion during the 2007 screenwriters strike, according to . one quote.

In a statement, the Los Angeles Hotel Association said it was negotiating in good faith and would continue to serve tourists during the strike. Housekeepers who currently earn $25 an hour in Beverly Hills and downtown Los Angeles will be paid $25 or more, said Keith Grossman, spokesman for the Coordination Negotiations Group of more than 40 hotels in Los Angeles and Orange County, in a statement. He announced that he had made a proposal to withdraw. By January 2027 he will be $31 per hour.

“If there is going to be a strike, it is because the unions are determined to strike,” Grossman said. “Hotels want to continue to offer high wages, affordable quality family health care and pensions.”

A recurring theme among striking workers this year is the unbearable cost of living in Southern California. School officials said in March they had to work two or three side jobs to cover living expenses. The screenwriters also echoed that lament. According to a recent University of Southern California survey, 60 percent of local tenants say they spend more than 30 percent of their income on their homes and say they have a “high rent burden.”

“How can I continue to live here?” asked 37-year-old Lucero Ramirez, who has been working as a housekeeper at Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills since 2018.

On Thursday, Ramirez gathered in an office space near downtown Los Angeles with dozens of other hotel employees, represented by Unite Here Local 11, to decorate poster boards and staple flyers ahead of the planned strike. fastened. Earlier in the day, The Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites announced it had averted a strike with the hotel. contract transaction.

Labor unions are calling for an immediate $5 increase to the current $20 to $25 an hour wage for housekeepers, followed by a $3 increase each year after a three-year contract. Hotel workers and their employers are well aware that the deal will set wage levels ahead of the 2026 World Cup and 2028 Olympics, which will flood the region with tourists.

Ramirez, who earns $25 an hour, has lived in a rent-controlled one-bedroom apartment in Hollywood for the past decade, paying $1,100 a month. The hot water often stopped coming out, and the floor of the room was cracked and rotten.

“My landlord wants me to move out because he wants the rent to go up,” she said. “They’re trying to get me out, but I can’t afford to go anywhere else. I’ll have to leave town.”

In California, the workforce is a function of the voters, where the Democrats have an almost two-to-one advantage over the Republicans, a majority control of the state legislature, locked state government offices, and union It also owes unions whose members routinely join trade unions. Open doors and donate funds to liberal candidates.

Next year, California voters will consider the idea of ​​raising the minimum wage to $18 an hour. In Los Angeles, city council members are considering raising the minimum wage for tourism workers to $25 an hour. Maria Elena Durazo, a Democratic state senator and former president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Workers’ Unions, is proposing a bill that would give all healthcare workers a minimum wage of $25 an hour.

The Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest school district in the United States, has tens of thousands of unionized teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and other employees this year after a high-profile strike in March. A person won a big raise.

There has also been a surge in small-scale labor movements, including the formation of strippers at a North Hollywood club in May. Amazon driver leaving Los Angeles Dodgers at warehouse in Palmdale, Calif. avoided a strike By giving ushers, groundskeepers, and other workers big raises.

Nationally, union membership in the labor force is at a record low of 10.1% of employed wage and salaried workers. However, in California, the number of such members increased last year, 16.1% of wage workerscompared to 15.9 percent in 2021.

“It’s a tug-of-war between inflation and wages,” said Song Wong Song, a professor of financial economics at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. “Inflation is winning and workers are catching up to sustained inflation.”

Workers should be able to afford to live in Los Angeles, said Nancy Hoffman Vaniek, chief executive of the Greater San Fernando Valley Chamber of Commerce, which represents nearly 400 businesses ranging from private businesses to Hollywood studios. . But she said simply forcing employers to pay more is a band-aid to California’s more serious problems.

“If you’re not looking at the cause of the problem, it’s the business that always has to bear the brunt of fixing the problem,” she said. “What’s driving the high cost of living in our state? What’s driving the high cost of housing?”

Workers are looking to profit from a tight job market across the country as employers prepare for a possible recession. Railroad workers nearly went on strike last year, and workers at manufacturing companies such as John Deere and Kellogg are on strike at the end of 2021.

In California, the activism is being further fueled by white-collar workers whose jobs are threatened by the rise of artificial intelligence and the gig economy.

“It’s amazing how much support we’re getting from other unions,” said Nelson Lichtenstein, director of the Center for the Study of Labor, Labor and Democracy at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “There’s a new common ground between a retail clerk who is told to come to work every other day from 3pm to 7pm and a screenwriter who is suddenly offered to write seven episodes and then said goodbye. Was born.”

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