In the two months since they went on strike, screenwriters have become a fixture outside Southern California studios, signs overhead as traffic roars past. It would be a lonely vigil in many parts of America.
Not in Los Angeles.
In the monstrous ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, traffic was disrupted weeks until workers at West Coast ports reached a tentative contract in mid-June. Across town, schools shut down for three days this spring when the bus drivers, cafeteria workers and teachers left.
Thousands of hotel workers in Los Angeles went on strike Sunday to demand higher pay and better benefits, just as hordes of tourists descended on the region for the Fourth of July holiday. And more than 160,000 actors are ready turn off Hollywood productions unless they can strike a new deal later this month.
Unions have been struggling nationally, but they’re having a moment in California.
“We call it the ‘hot summer of work,'” said Lorena Gonzalez, director of the California Federation of Labor, which represents more than 2.1 million union members statewide. “We have sparks and fires everywhere and we’re not going to let it die down in California.” We are fanning the flames.”
California has long been a labor stronghold, with Democrats controlling state government and most major cities. Despite a number of labor wins in recent years — including a $15.50 an hour minimum wage, more than double the federal rate — workers say they are feeling increasing pressure from inflation, housing shortages and technological disruption.
California’s unemployment rate remains below 5 percent, so workers know they have leverage. And a number of contracts are expiring this year, forcing California employers to negotiate with unions as they watch picket lines form daily in Los Angeles. About half long work breaks in 2023 took place in the state.
The actors’ union said it would extend its expiring contract through July 12 through a buyout more time to continue negotiations.
Hotel operators might be able to weave through a short-term hiatus, but a longer one could discourage tourists from visiting Los Angeles in the busy summer months and erode the convention business that has rebounded since the pandemic began, Kevin Klowden said. , chief global strategist of the Milken Institute, an economic think tank based in Santa Monica, California.
Simultaneous strikes by hotel workers, writers and actors would first hit Los Angeles businesses that rely on the region’s signature tourism and Hollywood industries. And they could have a wider effect beyond Los Angeles; during the 2007 screenwriters’ strike, the California economy lost $2.1 billion one guess.
The Los Angeles Hotel Association said in a statement that the hotels negotiated in good faith and will continue to serve tourists during the outing. Keith Grossman, a spokesman for the coordinated bargaining group of more than 40 hotels in Los Angeles and Orange County, said in a statement that it has offered to raise wages for housekeepers, who currently earn $25 an hour in Beverly Hills and downtown Los Angeles, to more than $31 an hour by January 2027.
A recurring theme among striking workers this year has been the prohibitive cost of living in Southern California. School staff he said in March that they had to take two or three side gigs to afford their bills. The screenwriters echoed this lament. A University of Southern California survey recently found that 60 percent of local renters say they are “rent burdened” and spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing.
“How can anyone live here?” asked Lucero Ramirez, 37, who has worked as a housekeeper at the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills since 2018.
On Thursday, Ms. Ramirez gathered in office space near downtown Los Angeles with dozens of other hotel workers represented by Unite Here Local 11 to decorate bulletin boards and staple flyers ahead of a planned strike. Earlier in the day, the Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites announced it had averted a strike contractual agreement.
The union asked that the hourly wage, now $20 to $25 for housekeepers, be raised by $5 immediately and then by $3 in each subsequent year of the three-year contract. Hotel workers – and their employers – are well aware that the deal will set pay levels ahead of the 2026 FIFA World Cup and 2028 Olympics, when tourists flood the region.
Ms. Ramirez, who earns $25 an hour, has lived in Hollywood for the past decade in a rent-controlled one-bedroom apartment where she pays $1,100 a month. Hot water often leaks and the floor in her unit is cracked and deteriorating, she said.
“The landlord wants me out so they can raise the rent,” she said. “They want me gone, but I can’t afford to go anywhere else, I’d have to leave town.
Labor is a function of voters in California, where Democrats have a nearly 2-to-1 edge over Republicans, supermajority control of the state legislature, a blockade of state offices — and a debt owed to unions whose members routinely knock them. doors and donate money to liberal candidates.
Next year, voters in California will consider an initiative that would raise the minimum wage to $18 an hour. In Los Angeles, City Council members are considering a plan that would raise the minimum wage for tourism workers to $25 an hour. Maria Elena Durazo, a Democratic state senator and former head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, is introducing legislation that would give all health care workers a minimum wage of $25 an hour.
Tens of thousands of unionized teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and other employees in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second-largest district, received significant pay raises this year after their in March the famous strike.
Smaller work events also proliferated, incl organizing strippers in May at the North Hollywood Club, and Amazon drivers are leaving in June at the Los Angeles Dodgers warehouse in Palmdale, California deflected the strike by significantly increasing the salary of ushers, site managers and other workers.
Nationwide, union membership as a percentage of the workforce fell to a record low of 10.1 percent of employed wage and salary workers. In California, however, membership last year increased to 16.1 percent of wage and salary workerscompared to 15.9 percent in 2021.
“It’s a tug-of-war between inflation and wages,” said Sung Won Sohn, a professor of finance and economics at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. “Inflation is winning and workers are trying to catch up with the inflation that has been persistent.”
Nancy Hoffman Vanyek, CEO of the Greater San Fernando Valley Chamber of Commerce, which represents about 400 businesses ranging from one-person operations to Hollywood studios, said workers should be able to afford to live in Los Angeles. But she said simply forcing employers to pay more is a band-aid for a much deeper problem in California.
“It’s business that always has to bear the brunt of solving these problems when we don’t look at what’s causing them,” she said. “What is causing the high cost of living in our state? What is the cause of high housing costs?’
Workers nationally are scrambling to lock in gains from a labor market that has remained tight as employers prepare for a possible recession. Railroad workers were on on the verge of a strike last yearwhile employees in manufacturing companies like John Deere and Kellogg went on strike at the end of 2021.
In California, activism was further fueled by white-collar workers whose jobs were threatened by the rise of artificial intelligence and the gig economy.
“It’s remarkable how much support they get from other unions,” said Nelson Lichtenstein, who directs the Center for the Study of Labor, Labor and Democracy at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “There’s a new sense of agreement between the saleswoman who’s told to come in every other day from 3 to 7 p.m. and the screenwriter who’s suddenly been offered seven episodes to write and then goodbye.”