The Hilton San Diego Bayfront workers’ strike ended quickly late Wednesday, hours after it began and before the first full day of Comic-Con, which was scheduled to begin Thursday.
Unite Here Local 30, which represents conference hotel workers, confirmed it had directed workers to stop striking after the Hilton offered the union what it considered a fair offer. Unite Here said it would not release details of the agreement until workers had a chance to vote on the new agreement.
“This tentative agreement addresses many of the issues our hotel workers face in this challenging economic environment, Brigitte Browning, President of Unite Here Local 30, said in a statement. “The economy can’t really recover from the pandemic by letting go of residents who work in the hospitality industry, and now those hard-working San Diegans have a fighting chance of success.
“We didn’t want to go on strike during this important week for San Diego tourism, but obviously that’s what it takes to get the wages and benefits these workers deserve.”
Rick Bates, the union’s director of policy, said he believed communications between Mayor Todd Gloria and Hilton officials played a role in helping reach an initial agreement. Browning thanked a number of elected leaders for their support during the labor dispute.
The withdrawal began early Wednesday morning after all-day talks stalled on Tuesday night when negotiators from the two sides were unable to reach an agreement on wages and other labor-related issues. 600 union employees at the hotel, who have been without a contract since November, Last Friday, they expressed their willingness to quit their jobs When they voted overwhelmingly to authorize the union leadership to call a strike if no progress is made in negotiations.
Leaders of Unite Here, which represents more than 6,000 hotel, gaming and food service workers across the county, said they hit an impasse late Tuesday when Hilton negotiators rejected their latest proposal for a $4-hour pay increase over two years. .
Browning said Wednesday morning as workers in red union shirts and holding sit-down banners marched near the top of the hotel and the lower entrances.
“No contract, no peace,” they chanted in English and Spanish as union leaders urged them with loudspeakers.
Management at the hotel on Wednesday morning declined to comment on the strike or on how they were planning to staff the hotel during San Diego’s largest single conference, which draws about 135,000 people. Inside the lobby, it appears to be operating as usual, although there is a sign advising guests that “bell service is currently unavailable”. And the indoor Starbucks, which is usually staffed by hotel workers, was closed “due to unforeseen circumstances”.
In a statement emailed from Hilton Wednesday, the hotel said: “We continue to welcome guests and have contingency plans in place to ensure operations run as smoothly as possible.” “We are confident that the hotel and the union will reach a fair agreement that will benefit our valued team members and our hotel,” she added.
Browning said she believed the hotel was staffed by temporary workers and a few employees from the Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines, which is not affiliated with unions.
Unite Here said the decision to strike hinged on two main issues – wages and the hotel’s current policy of no housekeepers cleaning rooms daily, a practice that has become common across the industry during the pandemic. Instead, rooms at the Hilton are cleaned as soon as guests check out unless they specifically request more frequent cleaning. Unite Here estimates that the policy change has, on average, reduced room attendance by 30 percent.
“We’ve been negotiating for months,” Betts told the Union-Tribune newspaper Tuesday night after the decision to strike was made. “We’re asking for $4 (hour) increments (over two years), and the company offered $2.50 with no extra cleaning. We can’t allow room hosts to continue to suffer in a billion dollar industry.”
Bates said Hilton’s latest offer of a $2.50 an hour increase was over 18 months, but that was contingent upon the union’s agreement to drop its demand on daily room housekeeping unless guests chose to opt out.
Bates said the hotel originally proposed in June an increase of $1.50 an hour over three years, but by Tuesday night it had changed the contract period to 18 months. During Tuesday’s talks, the union backed off its initial request of an additional $7 an hour over two years.
The union represents approximately 450 full-time employees of Hilton Bayfront and 150 additional on-call workers.
While workers in the conference hotel earn far more than minimum wage, they still struggle to make ends meet in a province where housing costs are particularly high. Hourly wages for non-tipping workers at Hilton — including housekeepers, hosts, chefs, and front desk agents — ranges from $19.30 to $20.65.
Imelda Isazaga, 55, has worked at the Hilton Bayfront since 2010, earning $19.65 an hour as a laundromat. She says she is fortunate to have a husband — who also works at Hilton — to help cover their $2,100 monthly rent for the three-bedroom apartment they share with their 33-year-old son.
“Right now, it’s becoming very difficult for us because the cost of living in California is really high,” she said, taking a break from the strike on Wednesday morning. “Your salary is not even enough. One job should be enough. I worry about the strike but we have to sacrifice; if we don’t, the company will benefit.”
Jason Orta, a chef at the Hilton for 12 years, is no stranger to labor unrest. Nearly 20 years ago, he joined fellow grocery workers in a Southern California strike that lasted more than four months.
“It was tough then with young children, but we ended up getting what we wanted. Nobody wins at these things,” said Orta, who lives in a two-bedroom apartment in La Mesa with his three children, ages 17 and 21. But that’s what it always seems to be about – health care and money.”
Comic-Con organizers acknowledged Wednesday that the timing of the strike could have made their first full in-person conference after a two-year hiatus even more difficult.
“We are very disappointed to learn that no agreement can be reached between Hilton San Diego Bayfront and Unite Here Local 30,” said Comic-Con spokesman David Glanzer. We sincerely hoped that the negotiations would result in a resolution that satisfies all stakeholders. We are working with a number of entities on potential contingencies, however, the timing of this certainly creates its own challenges.”
Not only is the hotel sold out but its Indigo Ballroom is the venue for many conference panels throughout the pop culture gathering, which begins Thursday. Glanzer said Comic-Con staffs rooms at area hotels that have conference boards.
The evacuation does not appear to affect Comic-Con activity surrounding the Hilton Bayfront on Wednesday afternoon. Crews have been busy setting up an outdoor screen for the ABC sitcom “Abbott Elementary” at the northwest end of the hotel property, and across the pier, workers are finalizing a pseudo-covered installation of FX Networks.
Some guests who arrived at the hotel on Wednesday told the Union-Tribune newspaper that they experienced no delays in check-in and said hotel staff did not warn them of any possible disruption to guest services during their stay.
Farhad Mahmoudi, a sales consultant from Encinitas who will be staying at the Hilton this weekend, supports the striking workers.
“I think it’s smart of them to do it at a time when they’re going to have a lot of exposure and maximum impact,” he said.
Jerry Vogler, who flew in from Philadelphia earlier in the week for the ceremony and was staying at the hotel for eight nights, was much less sympathetic. For one thing, he knew he had to order housekeeping 24 hours in advance if he wanted his room cleaned. However, it turned out that this was indeed a policy in place regardless of the strike.
“I feel like the work situation is, if you’re not happy with your job, you’ll find other opportunities,” Vogler said. “And a lot of people are spending a lot of money on this agreement and planning a year in advance, and disrupting that to get a better contract is not considerate.”
With little progress in negotiations in recent months, Unite Here sought to increase pressure on Hilton last week when it held a meeting Press conference outside San Diego City Hall. Among the speakers was Gloria, joined by two city councilmen, who gave their support to the hotel workers. On Wednesday, a number of elected leaders joined the sit-ins, including at least three members of the San Diego City Council, a county supervisor, and National City Mayor, Alejandra. Sotilo Solis.
The last hotel strike in San Diego was in the fall of 2018 when workers at the Westin San Diego Gaslamp pulled out of their jobs for 35 days. The The strike ended after negotiating a new contractgiving housekeepers a 40 percent pay raise over four years.
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