The Hilton San Diego Bayfront workers’ strike quickly ended late Wednesday night, hours after it began and shortly before the first full day of Comic-Con was scheduled to begin on Thursday.
Unite Here Local 30, which represents workers at the conference hotel, confirmed that it had instructed workers to stop picketing after the Hilton presented the union with a fair offer. Unite Here said it would not disclose details of the agreement until workers have had a chance to vote on the new agreement.
“This preliminary agreement addresses many of the challenges our hotel workers are facing in this challenging economic environment,” said Bridget Browning, President of Unite Here Local 30. “The economy cannot truly recover from the pandemic, leaving behind residents working in hospitality industry, and now these hard-working San Diegan residents have a chance to succeed.
“We didn’t want to go on strike during this important week for tourism in San Diego, but it’s clear that’s what it took to get the wages and benefits these workers deserve.”
Rick Bates, director of union policy, said he believes communication between Mayor Todd Gloria and Hilton officials played a role in reaching a tentative agreement. Browning thanked a number of elected leaders for their support during the labor dispute.
The strike began early Wednesday morning after talks stalled on Tuesday evening when negotiators on both sides failed to reach an agreement on pay and other work-related issues. Last Friday, 600 members of the hotel staff union, who have not had a contract since November, signaled their readiness to quit their jobs when they voted overwhelmingly to allow the union leadership to go on strike if no progress was made in negotiations.
Leaders from Unite Here, which represents more than 6,000 hotel, gaming and foodservice workers across the county, said they hit a dead end late Tuesday when Hilton representatives rejected their latest offer of a $4 an hour pay raise for two year period. .
“We were ready to go until this morning, but they said, ‘We’re done,’ and left,” Browning said Wednesday morning as workers wearing red union T-shirts and holding banners marched near the top floor of the hotel. and lower entrances.
“No contract, no peace,” they chanted in English and Spanish as union leaders called on them through megaphones.
Hotel management on Wednesday morning declined to comment on the strike or how they planned to staff the sold-out hotel during the largest convention in San Diego, which draws some 135,000 people. In the hotel lobby, everything went on as usual, although a sign informed guests that “the call is currently unavailable.” And its own Starbucks, which usually employed hotel employees, was closed “due to unforeseen circumstances.”
In an emailed statement to Hilton on Wednesday, the hotel said: “We continue to welcome guests and have contingency plans in place to ensure operations are as smooth as possible.” It added: “We are confident that the hotel and the union will reach a fair agreement that will benefit both our valued team members and our hotel.”
Browning said she believed the hotel had temporary workers and several non-union workers at the Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines.
The decision to go on strike hinged on two key issues – wages and the hotel’s current policy that maids must not clean rooms daily, a practice that has become commonplace in the industry during the pandemic, Unite Here said. Instead, rooms at the Hilton are cleaned after guests check out, unless they specifically request more frequent cleaning. Unite Here estimates that the policy change resulted in an average 30 percent reduction in service staff hours.
“We’ve been negotiating for months,” Bates told the Union-Tribune on Tuesday evening after the decision to strike was made. “We are demanding a $4 (per hour) increase (for two years) and the company offered $2.50 and no overnight cleaning. We cannot let maintenance personnel continue to suffer in a multi-billion dollar industry.”
Bates said Hilton’s latest offer of a $2.50 an hour increase had to be made within 18 months, but that was subject to the union agreeing to waive daily room cleaning unless guests chose to opt out.
The hotel originally offered a $1.50 hourly surcharge in June for three years, but changed the contract period to 18 months by Tuesday evening, Bates said. During Tuesday’s talks, the union dropped its original demand for an additional $7 an hour for two years.
The union represents about 450 full-time employees of Hilton Bayfront and another 150 on duty.
Although conference hotel workers earn well above the minimum wage, they are still struggling to make ends meet in an area where housing costs are particularly high. Hourly wages for non-tipped Hilton employees, including housekeepers, stewards, chefs, and front desk staff, range from $19.30 to $20.65.
Imelda Izazaga, 55, has been with the Hilton Bayfront since 2010, earning $19.65 an hour as a laundry worker. She says she is lucky to have a husband who also works at Hilton, who helps cover their $2,100 monthly rent for the three-bedroom apartment they share with their 33-year-old son.
“It’s too hard for us right now because the cost of living in California is so high,” she said, taking a break from picketing on Wednesday morning. “Your salary is not even enough. One job should be enough. I’m worried about the strike, but we have to sacrifice something; if we don’t, the company will take advantage.”
Jason Orta, who has worked as a chef at the Hilton for the past 12 years, is not the first time he has faced labor unrest. Nearly 20 years ago, he joined his fellow food workers in a strike in Southern California that lasted more than four months.
“It was difficult back then with small children,” said Horta, who lives in a two-bedroom apartment in La Mesa with his three children, who range in age from 17 to 21. But in the end we got what we wanted. No one wins in these things, but it always seems to be about this – health care and money.
Comic-Con organizers acknowledged on Wednesday that the timing of the strike could make their first full in-person convention after a two-year hiatus a lot more difficult.
“We are very disappointed to learn that an agreement between Hilton San Diego Bayfront and Unite Here Local 30 cannot be reached,” Comic-Con spokesman David Glanzer said. “We sincerely hoped that the negotiations would lead to a solution that satisfies all parties concerned. We are working with a number of organizations on possible contingencies, but the timing of this issue certainly creates its own challenges.”
Not only are the hotel tickets sold out, but the Indigo Ballroom, which starts Thursday, hosts several pop culture conventions. Glanzer said Comic-Con serves rooms at hotels that have conference panels.
The strike did not appear to have affected Comic-Con activity around the Hilton Bayfront hotel on Wednesday afternoon. Crews were busy installing an outdoor display for the ABC sitcom Elementary Abbott on the northwest side of the property, while workers across the sidewalk were putting the finishing touches on an ivy-covered installation for FX Networks.
Some guests who arrived at the hotel on Wednesday told the Union-Tribune they had no check-in delays and said hotel staff did not warn them of potential guest service disruptions during their stay.
Farhad Mahmoudi, a sales consultant from Encinitas who stayed at the Hilton this weekend, is supporting the striking workers.
“I think it’s pretty sensible of them to do this at a time when they’re going to get a lot of coverage and maximum impact,” he said.
Jerry Vogler, who flew in from Philadelphia earlier this week to visit Cohn and spent eight nights at the hotel, was far less sympathetic. First, he learned that he needed to order cleaning 24 hours in advance if he wanted his room cleaned. However, it turned out that such a policy was already in place regardless of the strike.
“I feel like the job situation is the way it is, if you’re unhappy with your job, you’ll find other opportunities,” Vogler said. “And a lot of people are spending a lot of money on this convention and planning a year ahead and breaking that to get a better contract is unwise.”
With little progress in negotiations in recent months, Unite Here tried to increase the pressure on Hilton last week when it held a press conference outside San Diego City Hall. Among the speakers was Gloria, who was joined by two members of the city council who supported the hotel workers. Several elected leaders joined the pickets on Wednesday, including at least three San Diego city council members, county leader and National City mayor Alejandra. Sotelo Solis.
The last hotel strike in San Diego was in the fall of 2018, when Westin San Diego Gaslamp workers quit their jobs for 35 days. The strike ended after a new contract was signed that gave housewives a 40 percent pay raise over four years.
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