Hotel workers to rally for higher pay, better working conditions

Scores of hotel workers plan to rally outside The Americas Lodging Investment Summit in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Jan. 24 to lobby for higher pay, better working conditions and an ordinance that would help alleviate the city’s affordable housing crisis.

The employees, represented by Unite Here Local 11, say the industry’s “poverty wages” and “irresponsible development” are contributing to the inability of working Angelenos to afford housing in L.A.

The city’s minimum wage for hotel workers is $18.86 an hour, the union said, which means an employee would have to work 17 hours a day to afford a two-bedroom apartment.

Brenda Mendoza, who works in the housekeeping department at the JW Marriott LA Live hotel, earns $25 an hour. But the high cost of apartment rents in L.A. drove her and her family out to Apple Valley.

With just one car in the family — a hybrid to cut down on fuel costs — she now faces a 93-mile commute while also dropping off and picking up her husband and two sons from their jobs along the way.

“I have to get up at 2:30 in the morning to do this, and sometimes I don’t get home until 8 or 9:30 at night,” she said. “I’m tired at the end of the day and often only get three hours of sleep.”

The hotel workers are also urging industry executives to endorse the Responsible Hotel Ordinance. Under the ordinance, a hotel project of 15 or more rooms would be required to replace demolished or converted housing with an equivalent amount of affordablehousing at or near the project site.

Los Angeles has seen a massive increase in new hotel development in recent years, while the number of people experiencing homelessness has skyrocketed and the city’s affordable-housing crisis has grown.

Hotels are frequently proposed for land that’s equally suitable for housing developments and could help alleviate the city’s need for affordable housing, the ordinance said.

More than 41,000 people in L.A. experienced homelessness at any given time during 2020, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. The 2021 count was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the number of people living on the streets has continued to increase.

The ordinance would also create a program, subject to funding availability, to place unhoused people in vacant hotel rooms — similar to Project Roomkey, a federally funded homeless-relief initiative in California that was launched in April 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hotels would be prohibited from refusing lodging to participants in the program.

The measure would also require a hotel project of 100 or more rooms to obtain a land-use permit based on a variety of factors, including market demand for the project and the project’s impact on affordable housing, transit, social services, employees and local businesses.

“This creates a program under which the city’s Housing Department will identify hotels with vacant rooms, refer unhoused families and individuals to such hotels and provide payment at a fair market rate for their lodging,” the ordinance said.

The measure would require hotels to report the number of vacant hotel rooms and otherinformation to the Housing Department on a regular basis.

The city of L.A. declined to adopt the ordinance, but Unite Here members have collected 126,000 signatures — enough to place it on the March 2024 ballot when voters can decide its outcome.

In June 2022, the Los Angeles City Council voted to adopt an initiative to boost wages for the city’s hotel workers, while providing increased protection against threats they may face on the job.

The Hotel Worker Protection Initiative, backed by Unite Here Local 11, came in response to the industry’s attempt to increase workloads and cut labor costs by eliminating daily room cleaning during the pandemic. It also provides protection against sexual assault for housekeepers while cleaning guest rooms.

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