Labor Day means rallies, not barbecues, for these Southern California workers – Daily News

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Labor Day for tens of thousands of workers in Southern California this year is more about picket signs and rally cries than hamburgers at holiday barbecues.

Strikes, tense labor negotiations and general unrest have dominated the headlines for months as workers and unions fight for higher wages, increased staffing, safer conditions and job protection from artificial intelligence.

The tension cuts across a broad swath of industries, including Hollywood writers and actors and workers at hotels, hospitals, airports, fast-food restaurants … even dancers at a North Hollywood strip club.

Thousands of healthcare workers, including Kaiser and Prime Healthcare employees, plan to march in Los Angeles on Labor Day.

The longstanding feuds and bargaining tactics have led some to see the labor movement as a tool for change, while others consider it an abuse of power by unions.

So what’s behind all the worker angst? It comes down to money, according to Lawrence Harris, a professor of business at the USC Marshall School of Business.

“Lots of people are retiring in comparison to the number of people entering the workforce,” he said. “When labor becomes scarce and the economy is doing well, you’d expect wages to rise. And if they don’t rise as fast as market conditions warrant, you see people more willing to strike.”

That, coupled with high prices for gas, groceries and housing, has also made cash-strapped workers more willing to walk out.

They have nothing to lose, Harris said.

The latest labor unrest continued this week when LAX cashiers, dishwashers, cooks, bartenders and food attendants employed by Areas USA voted to authorize a strike. The 450 workers are represented by Unite Here Local 11.

“Workers all over the city have reached their breaking point,” Unite Here co-president Susan Minato said in a statement. “The travel and tourism industry exploited the pandemic and continues to rake in profits while their workers are left living paycheck to paycheck.”

A date hasn’t been set for a potential walkout.

Writers and actors

The Writers Guild of America strike will hit 126 days come Labor Day, and the Guild and Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers still appear to be far from reaching a labor agreement.

The WGA, which represents 11,500 screenwriters, claims AMPTP’s share of the residuals has significantly reduced writers’ average incomes compared to a decade ago. Writers also want artificial intelligence, such as ChatGPT, to be used only as a tool that can help with research or facilitate script ideas and not as a tool to replace them.

Chris Thornberg, an economist and founding partner with Beacon Economics, figures the two sides won’t reach an agreement anytime soon.

He attributes the continuing impasse to the wealth of viewing options now available to customers through Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus and other streaming services.

“In the grand old days we had movie theaters and 14 TV stations — no more, no less,” Thornberg said. “But with more distribution channels added, they can suddenly make more and more money off of existing content.”

SAG-AFTRA, the labor union that represents some 160,000 media professionals, actors and entertainers, launched its own strike against AMPTP on July 14, also citing concerns over the use of AI. They fear it could be used to replicate their likeness without compensation.

That strike will hit the 52-day mark on Labor Day.

Bob Bekian, who owns Loyal Studios in Burbank, said the strikes have taken a hefty bite out of his business.

“I’ve lost probably 40%,” he said. “It’s tough because the bills don’t go away. We battled through COVID and now we have this issue going on. Productions are moving to other states because of incentives. Twenty-two states are offering very attractive incentives.”

Striking hotel housekeeper Evelyn Rodriguez dances as hotel workers and their supporters rally at the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown hotel in Los Angeles on Monday, August 7, 2023 as Unite Here Local 11 continues to demand higher wages and better benefits. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Hotel workers

Labor unrest has also gripped the region’s hospitality industry, with an estimated 15,000 hotel workers on strike. The Unite Here Local 11-represented employees are seeking an immediate $5-and-hour wage increase, continued family healthcare coverage and upgrades to their pension plan, as well as “safe and humane” workloads.

Filadelfia Alcala, a housekeeper at the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills hotel, says she’s living paycheck to paycheck.

“I’m renting a room from a family member for $1,000 a month,” the 36-year-old single mother said. “But I live 21 miles away, so I’m driving 42 miles every day. And they want to take away our health insurance. That means I’d have to pay $500 a month.”

Striking hotel workers are urging conventions to stay away from Los Angeles until the hotel industry “pays a living wage” and puts an end to the violence they allege has occurred on the picket lines.

Keith Grossman, a spokesman for the Coordinated Bargaining Group, which is representing the hotels in labor negotiations, said the workers should be careful what they wish for.

“Conventions that leave often take years to return — if they do,” Grossman said recently. “Our employees and union members will lose out on work, tips and opportunities should L.A. no longer be a preferred destination for conventions.”

Unite Here said the hotel strike has already prompted several organizations, including the Democratic Governors Association, the Japanese American Citizens League, and The Council of State Governments West, to relocate, suspend or cancel their LA events.

The most controversial aspect of the hotel workers strike is Unite Here’s push to expand policies that would force California hotels to offer empty rooms to homeless people.

The Center for Union Facts launched a campaign this week opposing the move. A Center-produced video, “Hotel Hell,” depicts a homeless man panhandling with an ice bucket in a hotel hallway and washing his laundry in the hotel’s swimming pool.

Converting hotels into “homeless shelters,” the Center said, would threaten the safety and well-being of guests, hotel staff and the homeless people the action is intended to help.

Michael Saltsman, the Center’s executive director, said Unite Here is “trying to torpedo” a city that depends heavily on the transit occupancy tax (TOT) hotels provide.

And local politicians, he said, have been reluctant to speak out on the issue.

“No one’s willing to say, ‘What’s the end game here?’ ” he said.

Healthcare workers at Kaiser Permanente Baldwin Park Medical Center picketed the faciliy on July 27, 2023 as they called for increased staffing. (Georgia Valdes, San Gabriel Valley Tribune/SCNG)
Healthcare workers at Kaiser Permanente Baldwin Park Medical Center picketed the faciliy on July 27, 2023 as they called for increased staffing. (Georgia Valdes, San Gabriel Valley Tribune/SCNG)

Healthcare employees

In the realm of healthcare, workers at Southern California hospitals, clinics and nursing homes have staged pickets and held strikes in recent months, demanding increased staffing and higher wages.

They claim lack of adequate staffing has left them burned out and undermined patient care.

Thousands of Los Angeles healthcare workers plan to hold a Labor Day march and rally on Monday, Sept. 4 at Los Feliz Elementary School in L.A.

Organized by SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West and co-sponsored by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, the march will culminate in a demonstration in front of the Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center in Hollywood, with a call for healthcare corporations to “prioritize the needs of workers and take steps to address the patient care crisis.”

The action comes on the heels of an announcement that 85,000 Kaiser healthcare workers have begun voting to authorize a strike.

After years of enduring skeletal staffing and being on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, workers at Kaiser Permanente, Prime Healthcare and other healthcare providers say they’re grappling with employee burnout and heavy turnover, which has worsened the staffing shortages.

In a recent statement, Kaiser said the possibility of a strike “is a disappointing action considering our progress at the bargaining table.”

The healthcare giant said it has worked with the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions to accelerate hiring, with a joint goal of hiring 10,000 new people for Coalition-represented jobs in 2023.

“We hired over 29,000 new employees in 2022 and are on pace to exceed that substantially in 2023, despite the pandemic-driven labor shortage happening across health care,” Kaiser said.

BURBANK, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 15: Lindsey Normington, a Star Garden Topless Dive Bar dancer, performs in solidarity with striking WGA (Writers Guild of America) employees on the picket line, on June 15, 2023 in Burbank, California. Dancers at the North Hollywood bar have become the only unionized group of strippers in the country following a 15-month battle between club management and the employees, who sought safer workplace conditions, health insurance, and higher compensation. The dancers are now members of the Actors' Equity Association labor union. Writers Guild of America members are in their seventh week of their strike against Hollywood studios. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Lindsey Normington, a Star Garden Topless Dive Bar dancer, performs in solidarity with striking Writers Guild of America employees on the picket line, on June 15, 2023 in Burbank. Dancers at the North Hollywood bar have become the only unionized group of strippers in the country. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Strippers, escape room workers

The labor movement also made its way to the Star Garden Topless Dive Bar in North Hollywood.

On Aug. 24, the club reopened after being shuttered earlier this year, featuring the nation’s only unionized strippers. The dancers are now members of the Actors’ Equity Association.

The move to unionize began in March 2022, when strippers allege the club failed to protect them from threatening and abusive behavior from patrons.

“We’re still hammering things out at the bargaining table,” Association for President Kate Shindle said. “A final union contract remains a work in progress.”

Performers at The Basement, a horror-themed escape room in Sylmar, also plan to unionize with Actors’ Equity as they lobby for higher wages and safer working conditions.

And still more …

Performers at the Medieval Times dinner theater in Buena Park launched an unfair labor practices strike against the company on Feb. 11, claiming management has given substantial pay hikes to workers at other Medieval Times castles while their wages remain low amid unsafe work conditions.

And workers at fast-food locations throughout Southern California have picketed their restaurants and staged protests over low wages, workplace violence, harassment and other unsafe work conditions.

Amazon delivery drivers and dispatchers held an unfair labor practice strike at the company’s Palmdale warehouse and delivery center in June, claiming they’re underpaid and left to work in blistering heat during summer months.

And dozens of Uber, Lyft and delivery drivers rallied at LAX in May, claiming some have been unfairly terminated while others feel forced to accept unruly passengers because their rideshare wages are so low.

Amid all of this labor action, Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-Burbank, authored Senate Bill 799, which would provide unemployment insurance for striking workers.

“SB 799 will help workers put food on their table when they need it most, in the middle of a labor negotiation,” Portantino said in a statement. “It’s better for the worker and the economy to have job security and a seat at the table as we negotiate the future of the workforce, while business and economic models change.”

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