In the two months since they went on strike, screenwriters have become a fixture outside studios in Southern California, signs up as the traffic rolls by. In many parts of America, theirs would have been a lonely vigil.
Not in Los Angeles.
At the giant ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, operations were halted for weeks until West Coast dockers struck a tentative contract in mid-June. Across the city, schools closed for three days this spring as bus drivers, cafeteria workers and teachers walked out.
Now, the union representing about 15,000 Los Angeles hotel workers is threatening to strike this Fourth of July weekend, just as the summer tourism season intensifies. And more than 160,000 actors are set to shut down Hollywood productions if they can’t reach a new contractual deal by the end of the month.
Unions have been fought over nationwide, but in California they are having a moment.
“We call it the ‘hot summer of labor,’” said Lorena Gonzalez, the chief officer of the California Labor Federation, which represents more than 2.1 million union members statewide. “We have sparks and fires everywhere, and we won’t let it go out in California. We are fanning the flames. »
California has long been a union stronghold, with Democrats in control of state government and most major cities. Despite a string of successes in recent years, including a minimum wage of $15.50 an hour, more than double the federal rate, workers say they are increasingly feeling the pressure of inflation, housing shortages and disruptions technological.
The unemployment rate remains below 5% in California, so workers know they have leverage. And several contracts expire this year, forcing California employers to negotiate with unions as they watch pickets form daily in Los Angeles. About half of major work stoppages in 2023 they took place in the state.
A major contract for hotel workers expired on Friday, while the actors’ union said it would extend the expiring contract until July 12, buying more time to continue negotiations.
However, hotel workers may leave as early as this weekend. Hotels may be able to weather a short-term strike, but a longer one could deter tourists from visiting Los Angeles in the busy summer months and erode the convention business that has rebounded since the pandemic began, Kevin said. Klowden, chief global strategist at the Milken Institute, an economic think tank based in Santa Monica, California.
The simultaneous strikes by hotel workers, screenwriters and actors would first spread to Los Angeles businesses that rely on the region’s signature tourism and Hollywood industries. And they may have a wider effect beyond Los Angeles; during the 2007 writers’ strike, California’s economy lost $2.1 billion, according to an estimate.
The Los Angeles Hotel Association said in a statement it had bargained in good faith and would continue to serve tourists during a strike. Keith Grossman, a spokesman for the Coordinated Bargaining Group made up of more than 40 Los Angeles and Orange County hotels, said in a statement that he has offered to raise pay for housekeepers who currently make $25 an hour in Beverly Hills and the downtown Los Angeles at more than $31 an hour by January 2027.
“If there is a strike, it will be because the union is determined to have one,” Grossman said. « Hotels want to continue to provide high wages, affordable quality family healthcare and a pension. »
A recurring theme this year among striking workers has been the unbearable cost of living in Southern California. School employees said in March they had to take two or three sideshows to afford the bills. The writers echoed that lament. A University of Southern California survey recently found that 60 percent of local tenants said they were « rent overburden, » spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing.
« How can we continue to 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 an office space near downtown Los Angeles with dozens of other hotel workers represented by Unite Here Local 11 to decorate billboards and staple flyers together ahead of a planned walkout. That day, the Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites announced it avoided a strike with a contract.
The union demanded that hourly wages, now $20 to $25 for housekeepers, immediately increase by $5, followed by $3 increases in each subsequent year of a three-year contract. Hotel workers – and their employers – are well aware that this deal will set wage levels ahead of the 2026 World Cup and 2028 Olympic Games, when tourists flood the region.
Ms. Ramirez, who earns $25 an hour, has lived in a rent-controlled one-bedroom apartment in Hollywood for the past decade, where she pays $1,100 a month. The hot water goes out frequently and the floor of her unit is cracked and decaying, she said.
« The landlord wants me out so they can raise the rent, » she said. « They want me out, but I can’t afford to go anywhere else, I’d have to leave town. »
Labor power is a function of the electorate in California, where Democrats have a nearly 2-to-1 lead over Republicans, majority control of the state legislature, a block on state offices — and a debt to unions, whose members regularly knock on doors and contribute 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 Los Angeles County Federation of Labor head, is pushing through legislation that would give all health care workers a minimum hourly wage of $25.
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, won major raises this year after their high-profile walkout in March.
Smaller industrial action has also proliferated, including strippers who organized in May at a North Hollywood club, and Amazon drivers leave in June in a warehouse in Palmdale, California. The Los Angeles Dodgers averted a strike giving significant raises to ushers, gardeners and other workers.
Across the country, union membership as a percentage of the workforce fell to an all-time low of 10.1% of wage and salaried workers. In California, however, that membership increased last year to 16.1 percent of salaried and salaried workerscompared to 15.9% in 2021.
« This is 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 has won and workers are trying to catch up with inflation which has been persistent. »
Nancy Hoffman Vanyek, chief executive officer of the Greater San Fernando Valley Chamber of Commerce, which represents about 400 companies, from sole proprietorship 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 was a Band-Aid to a much deeper problem in California.
« It’s the companies that always have to bear the brunt of fixing these problems, when we’re not looking at what’s causing them, » he said. “What is causing the high cost of living in our state? What is causing the high cost of housing?
Workers nationwide are trying to lock in gains from a job market that has remained tight, as employers brace for a possible recession. Railroad workers were on the verge of a strike last year, while employees at manufacturing companies like John Deere and Kellogg’s went on strike in late 2021.
In California, activism was further driven by white-collar workers, whose jobs were threatened by the rise of artificial intelligence and the gig economy.
« It’s extraordinary the degree to which they are gaining support 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 commonality between the retail clerk who is told to come in every other day from 3-7pm and the writer who is suddenly offered seven episodes to write and then goodbye. »