Striking hotel workers hit by pellet gun projectiles, union says

Months of strikes have brought about more than two dozen new labor agreements between hotel operators and their workers, yet tensions remain high on picket lines across Southern California.

In incidents earlier this week, Unite Here Local 11, the union representing hospitality workers, alleges that people on one of its picket lines were struck by pellets fired by an air rifle.

Outside Hotel Figueroa in downtown Los Angeles, four workers and one union organizer said they were injured Jan. 21 and 22 when they were “repeatedly fired upon, apparently with an air rifle,” the union wrote in a letter to the Los Angeles Police Department.

Sandra Cartagena, 44, a housekeeper at Hotel Figueroa, said she was in the middle of a conversation with a co-worker on Sunday morning when she felt a sharp pain in her left arm. Almost immediately her co-worker Yajaira Reyes felt something hit the top of her head.

Searching the ground, workers found the small metal balls that appeared to have hit them, tearing through a canopy that union organizers had set up to shield strikers from the rain.

According to the union letter, police did not arrive at the scene for three hours and in that time a third worker was struck on the collarbone. The letter criticized police response as “deficient and problematic.”

A fourth worker and Unite Here Local 11 organizer Nick Gerber were hit in a similar manner while on the picket line the following day.

LAPD spokesperson Jader Chaves said the allegations are being investigated. The department did not immediately respond to a request for comment about criticisms outlined in the letter.

Real estate and hospitality management company Highgate, which operates Hotel Figueroa, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Although the new year appeared to bring steady progress in contract talks between Southern California hotels and the union that represents their workers, dozens remain without contracts.

Unite Here Local 11, seeking to build pressure on hotel owners and operators, launched strikes at Hotel Figueroa on Sunday, at DoubleTree by Hilton in downtown Los Angeles on Monday, and at Sheraton Park in Anaheim on Thursday. DoubleTree by Hilton and Sheraton Park are operated by Aimbridge Hospitality — a firm the union announced this week would be the target of a boycott effort.

Hundreds of protesting workers flooded the street in front of Sheraton Park on Thursday night. The protest shut down the Convention Way and South Harbor Street intersection, walking distance from Anaheim Convention Center and Disneyland.

Unite Here Local 11 officials have been sharply critical of Aimbridge Hospitality in recent months.

“Aimbridge Hospitality has not only refused to listen to its workers, but it has met them with contempt and greed,” said Kurt Petersen, co-president of Unite Here Local 11, in a news release. “By boycotting Aimbridge properties, travelers and tourists to Southern California have an opportunity to stand against corporate injustice and support workers.”

Stephanie Peterson, a spokesperson for Aimbridge Hospitality, said the union has been disingenuous in its criticism of the company, portraying Aimbridge as unwilling to negotiate.

“We are disappointed that Local 11 has chosen to backtrack on the terms that they put forth … which Aimbridge agreed to and signed earlier this month,” Peterson said in an emailed statement. “Aimbridge remains solely focused on our commitment to reach a fair resolution in an expedited manner for our associates, and we are diligently working to finalize an agreement centered on our associates and their livelihoods.”

In all, Unite Here Local 11 has reached tentative agreements with 29 hotels out of some 60 properties in Los Angeles and Orange counties initially targeted by intermittent strikes that started in July.

Fairmont Century Plaza in Century City on Jan. 16 became the latest property to reach a contract deal. The tentative agreement covers roughly 250 workers.

The union has declined to give specifics on wages and other economic details of the agreements it has reached so far, and none of the 29 contracts has been put to a vote by workers. Unite Here Local 11 spokesperson Maria Hernandez has said that, once ratified by workers at the various hotels, the contracts will raise wages, strengthen pensions and increase investments in healthcare.

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