Hilton Workers Fight for a Better Future
GLENDALE, SEPTEMBER 28, 2005 -- As a delegation of over 30 workers and community members stormed through the employee entrance of the 350-room Hilton hotel in downtown Glendale, hotel security could do little more than grasp their radios and call for backup.
Followed by a barrage of hotel managers, curious on-duty employees and about half a dozen security guards, the workers made their way through the winding corridors of the employee area and into the offices of the hotel’s executive committee, where the concerned Hilton employees addressed their need for a union and insisted that management not interfere with their efforts to organize.
“You [Hilton management] always say that we [all Hilton employees] are a great family,” said Francisco Camacho, a morning cook at the Hilton.
“But in other comparable hotels, like the Beverly Hilton, which is also a first-class, 4-Star hotel they do the same work as we do, but we make much less.
“They don’t pay anything for their health insurance, we pay too much.
“If we really are one big family like you say, where is the equality?" Camacho added.
The delegation of workers referred to themselves as the “union organizing committee, “ a group of about 30 worker leaders who, in some cases, have spent two years meeting secretly with each other to plan for the day that they would make their campaign for union recognition public. Represented by UNITE-HERE Local 11, the workers were supported by Glendale city councilman Frank Quintero, Los Angeles City Council members Wendy Greuel and Alex Padilla and State Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood).
Workers presented a petition for a Card Check Neutrality Agreement signed by 70% of the 178 workers in the hotel who are eligible for union representation. Such an agreement between the company and the union would guarantee that hotel management not interfere with the workers’ right to form a union. The delegation insisted that Hilton Assistant General Manager Gary Lemma sign the agreement.
But when presented with the petition, Mr. Lemma refused to sign it and said that although hotel management would remain neutral on the matter, they do reserve the right to hold meetings with employees. According to workers, he was referring to meetings that management had already begun to hold with employees several months ago. Workers also reported that in the meetings they were discouraged from joining the union.
Letters distributed to workers from the company explained that hotel management preferred the ability “to be flexible in our dealings with you [the workers],” rather than sign a union contract that would guarantee certain rights and benefits. In one of the meetings, Hilton General Manager Linda Norman insinuated that members of the union organizing committee might be violent and announced that the hotel would now be placing special security checkpoints at the employee entrance. Workers say that the letters are misleading and deceptive. A worker, who wishes to remain anonymous, explains:
“The letters try and make it seem like the union is some evil organization that is forcefully trying to unionize workers against their will, but the reality is that the union, at this point, is 70% of the workers who wish to build an organization independent of hotel management.
“The company is afraid of us, they are afraid of us having power, because when we have power they will have to treat us with respect and they can’t abuse us with heavy workloads and low pay anymore. That is really why they don’t want us to organize.”
More meetings between hotel management and the employees were also held on the subject only days after the delegation. Another worker explains:
“They had more meetings with employees, but this time they not only tried to discourage us from forming a union, but they lied to us by telling us that the article in the newspaper had misquoted Gary and that he never said that management would remain neutral about the union.
“This is just another example of the kind of disrespect the company shows us.”
A video of the demonstration, recorded by union representatives, tells a similar story. See the video here.
Last Thursday, workers and community members staged another demonstration, this time in front of the hotel. Unlike the first demonstration, hotel management was prepared: they had several dozen security guards on hand along with managers from other Hilton hotels and representatives from their corporate offices. The major news companies reported that over 250 demonstrators attended the demonstration, including about 90 Glendale Hilton employees, union members from other workplaces, and supporters from the local community. They marched to the front of the hotel and chanted slogans such as “¡sí, se puede!” (“yes, we can!”) and “no justice at Glendale Hilton, no peace at Beverly Hilton!” Demonstrators were met by a small army of about 60 Hilton representatives and police officers who seemed unaccustomed to the sight of a picket line in front of their property.
“People who work at this hotel can't afford to make a living in Southern California." Angela Reid, an evening bartender, said as she was speaking to the group about the need for a union at the hotel.
Representatives of UNITE-HERE said that over 50% of the (non-management) workers came out of the hotel on their lunches and breaks to join the picket line in support of the union.