Strike authorizations: Unite Here vs. LA hotels OKd; Teamsters vs. UPS expected
Hotel workers strike in front of a Marriot hotel in San Francisco in 2018. The workers at hotels including Hyatt, Hilton, Highgate, Accor, IHG and Marriott are seeking better conditions. | Ben Margot/AP

LOS ANGELES—Get ready for tense showdowns between prepared unions and often-stubborn bosses: 15,000 Unite Here Local 11 members against 62 big hotels in Los Angeles and Orange County, Calif., and the Teamsters’ 340,000 UPS workers against the big shipper and its CEO, Carol Tomé.

That’s because the L.A.-Orange County hotel workers voted by a 96%-4% margin on June 8 to authorize a strike. Their contracts with the hotels expire June 30. Bargaining began April 20, “but the hotel industry has yet to respond with any wage proposals,” the local said. And the Teamsters voted on strike authorization during the week of June 11-16, with results to be announced that final day.

The UPS contract expires August 1 and Teamsters President Sean O’Brien expects landslide approval for strike authorization. Indeed, O’Brien’s been warning UPS members for months to save money in anticipation of a forced strike.

The strike authorization votes by both the big Unite Here local and the even bigger union are among the signs of new militancy by workers confronting employers who have immensely benefited from their toil, and now demand a bigger share of the proceeds of their labor.

The coronavirus pandemic only made things worse for both the hotel workers and the UPS Teamsters by deepening the chasm between CEOs and their workers, as it did for other industries nationwide. UPS earned $13.9 billion in profits last year, a study for the union reports, up $5.2 billion from 2020.

As profits shot up in both cases, honchos pocketed the proceeds—or shoveled them on to Wall Street capitalist investors. Just ten investment firms own 35% of UPS stock, a study for the union points out. Overall, Wall Street owns 72% of UPS.

UPS’s profit margin last year was 13%. From 2012-22, UPS pay and compensation to workers rose $14.7 billion, but its board shoveled out 50% more than that to buy back stock, benefiting investors, and $29 billion in dividends. In 2021 alone, Tomé pocketed $27.62 million in pay and other compensation.

Over at Unite Here Local 11, hotel workers struggle to garner money to live on. Indeed, earning enough to afford rent in high-cost L.A. is the local top demand, as the aim of a 5% pay hike in the proposed contract’s first year. The union also demands a better health care system and less stress on the job for chambermaids, greeters, desk people and custodial staffers who toil at chains like Hilton and Marriott.

“Hotel workers who work in the booming Los Angeles tourism industry must be able to live in Los Angeles,” said Local co-President Kurt Petersen in announcing the results there. “When half of our members have been forced to move or will have to move while the tourism industry boasts record profits, something is very wrong with the system. We are prepared to do whatever it takes to get the workers wages that can secure local housing.”

Affordable housing is a big issue because L.A. is already housing short and will host two big sports events back to back: The 2026 men’s soccer World Cup, followed by the 2028 Summer Olympics. Cities traditionally build “Olympic villages” to house visiting athletes, displacing residents—often Black and brown residents—as they do.

A Local 11 video added respect on the job to the union’s goals of “better wages, fair workloads and affordable housing…One job should be enough to live in the cities where we work.”

“The industry shamelessly exploited the pandemic and is now reaping greater profits than ever before.

Yet workers cannot afford to pay the rent,” Petersen said. The overwhelming vote “sends a clear message: Workers reached their limit and are prepared to strike to secure a living wage.”

While there’s been no progress in bargaining between Local 11 and the L.A.-Orange County hotels, O’Brien and other Teamsters officials report some progress in regional and national bargaining. But the key issues of pay—including eliminating a hated two-tier wage system–and UPS’s high use of part-timers have yet to hit the table in their talks.

The two-tier system, and the last UPS contract, were direct reasons that O’Brien ousted the hand-picked successor to longtime Teamsters President Jim Hoffa in the union’s 2020 one-Teamster-one-vote election. Hoffa’s board had imposed that pact after workers rejected it, but not enough voted.

The union notes that if UPS part-timers’ pay had kept up with inflation during the last 40 years, they’d be starting at $25,000 yearly. Full-timers earned a median income of just over $50,000. The median is the point where half the workers earn more and half earn less.

Both Local 11 and the Teamsters have additional leverage as they head for the bargaining battles. If they don’t get a contract, the Local 11 hotel workers plan to walk when their old pact expires July 1, right before the height of tourist season beginning with Independence Day.

Local 11 believes the Olympic/soccer village construction will push even more of its members out of L.A. into commutes of two hours-plus each way. It wants a contractual guarantee that once the games are over, those projects become affordable housing for low- and middle-income people.

The Teamsters are reminding UPS what happened the last time it forced the Teamsters to walk, for 16 days in 1997’s third quarter. Its profits tanked by $568 million (98%) in those three months alone, to $14 million. If the firm forces its workers to walk for two weeks this summer, the plunge would be $3.2 billion, the union study forecast. If the Teamsters had to stay out a month, it would be double that.

Local 683 Business Representative Eric Wantland told the Southern California Teamster that his local’s UPS members are suffering because of the parcel delivery firm’s “shameful tactics of manipulating volume and cutting routes.” Those issues were a big topic at a recent rally of 1,000-plus UPS Teamsters in front of the Local 952 offices in Orange, Calif., the paper said.

“We are particularly busy with several complex contract negotiations, including UPS and LAUSD,” the Los Angeles United School District, Teamsters Joint Council 42 President Randy Cammack told the paper. “While our members’ duties and work issues may differ at these two large employers, one unfortunate thing they have in common is they work for employers that aren’t fully recognizing our members’ worth and contributions to the success of their behemoth operations.”

We hope you appreciated this article. At People’s World, we believe news and information should be free and accessible to all, but we need your help. Our journalism is free of corporate influence and paywalls because we are totally reader-supported. Only you, our readers and supporters, make this possible. If you enjoy reading People’s World and the stories we bring you, please support our work by donating or becoming a monthly sustainer today. Thank you!


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.