Los Angeles Times
Workers strike at hotel near Comic-Con
Hilton San Diego Bayfront’s 600 unionized employees walk off after impasse in contract talks.
SAN DIEGO — Hilton San Diego Bayfront workers began striking early Wednesday, hours before Comic-Con was set to begin at the San Diego Convention Center — just steps away from the 1,190-room hotel.
Daylong talks stalled late Tuesday when negotiators for both sides were unable to reach an agreement on pay and other work-related issues.
The hotel’s 600 unionized employees, who have been without a contract since November, signaled their willingness Friday to walk off their jobs when they voted overwhelmingly to authorize union leadership to call a strike if no progress was made in negotiations.
Leaders of Unite Here Local 30, which represents hotel workers throughout San Diego County, said they reached an impasse with the hotel after 13 hours of talks that ended at 10 p.m. Tuesday.
“We were prepared to go until this morning, but they said, ‘We’re done,’ and they left,” Unite Here President Brigette Browning said as workers, dressed in red union T-shirts and holding picket signs, marched nearby at the hotel entrance.
“No contract, no peace,” workers chanted in English and Spanish as union leaders urged them on with megaphones.
Management at the hotel Wednesday morning declined to comment on the walkout or on how they were planning to staff the soldout hotel during San Diego’s single largest convention, which draws some 135,000 attendees.
In the hotel lobby, it appeared to be business as usual, although a sign advised guests that “Bell service is currently unavailable.” And the in-house Starbucks, normally staffed by hotel workers, was closed “due to unforeseen circumstances.”
In an emailed statement from Hilton on Wednesday, the hotel said, “We are continuing 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 is beneficial to both our valued Team Members and to our hotel.”
No new bargaining sessions, however, have been scheduled, union leaders said. Browning said she believes that the hotel is being staffed by temporary workers and a few employees from the Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines, which is not unionized.
The decision to strike, the union said, hinged on two key issues: pay and the hotel’s policy of not having housekeepers clean rooms daily, a practice that became commonplace in many hotels during the pandemic.
The rooms are instead cleaned once guests check out, unless they specifically request more frequent cleaning.
“We have been negotiating for months,” said Rick Bates, director of policy for the union.
Bates said workers were seeking a wage increase of $4 an hour over two years, while the hotel offered a $2.50 raise and no change in the roomcleaning policy, which Unite Here estimates has resulted in 30% fewer hours for housekeepers.
“We can’t allow room attendants to continue suffering in a billion-dollar industry,” he said.
The union represents about 450 full-time employees at Hilton San Diego Bayfront and an additional 150 on-call workers.
Although the workers at the hotel earn considerably more than the minimum wage, they still struggle to make ends meet in a county where housing costs are especially high.
Hourly pay for non-tipped workers at the Hilton — including housekeepers, stewards and front desk agents — ranges from $19.30 to $20.65.
Just a week ago, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, joined by two City Council members, spoke at a union rally in support of the hotel workers.
“We value essential workers, and we have to show we value them right now, and the way to do that is to pass a fair contract with good wages and good benefits,” Gloria said at the gathering.
On Wednesday, a number of elected leaders showed up in support of the strike, including at least three San Diego City Council members and the mayor of National City, Alejandra Sotelo-Solis.
“It’s really important for folks to know they are appreciated, that at the end of the day when they come to work, they’re the ones who are making sure rooms are cleaned, that hot food is being served,” Sotelo-Solis said. “And today being the first day of Comic-Con, the public also needs to know this is happening.”
The start of a strike just as Comic-Con is making its long-awaited return to a full in-person convention has the potential to become a public relations nightmare, given its proximity to the convention center, where up to 135,000 attendees are expected to gather through Sunday.
Not only is the hotel sold out, but its Indigo Ballroom is also a venue for several convention panels.
The hotel has welcomed the return of Comic-Con, posting whimsical videos on Twitter showcasing the property — and some of its employees — as it prepared for the big event. One video shows a “team member” transforming the in-house Starbucks with intricate drawings, just for ComicCon.
The last hotel strike in San Diego was in the fall of 2018, when workers at the Westin San Diego Gaslamp Quarter walked off their jobs for 35 days.