Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce announces that Highgate Hotels, the new owner of the Westin Long Beach, has formally recognized UNITED HERE Local 11 as the bargaining representative for its workers. Photo by Stephanie Rivera.
Years-long protests for better working conditions by some local hotel workers have come to an end as city officials announced today that Westin Long Beach employees have achieved union recognition.
The announcement, during a news conference inside Long Beach City Hall just today, was made by Second District Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce, marking a pivotal gain for a cause she has been fighting for as a labor advocate since before she was elected to office last year.
“I’m excited to say and honored to announce that today the Westin has gone through a democratic process for their new owners and their workers and now are formally recognized as being part of the union family,” Pearce said.
Pearce, who has been at the center of the fight for raising hotel workers’ wages, was also present when workers at the Hyatt Regency and Hyatt Pike won their union status, improving their working and living conditions dramatically, she said. She even flew out to Utah earlier this year in hopes of convincing Westin’s previous owners to sit down at the bargaining table.
“The industry has said that their prosperity would end and that they would not be able to afford pay and provide standards for working conditions,” Pearce said. “We know that this is not the case. We know that workers can thrive, that residents can thrive, that our city can thrive and continue to grow. That’s what makes this new operator of the Westin Long Beach, Highgate Hotels, a remarkable gift to our community. They believe that all stakeholders [...] can win, they believe that when workers thrive the hotel thrives. They bought the hotel and immediately sought to end the labor dispute. They came to Long Beach as a willing partner to say ‘we want to do the best for our community that we’re going into’ and I'm honored today of that commitment to be standing here with them.”
Highgate Hotels bought the Westin in mid-August, one of its first Southern California acquisitions, and was aware of the labor dispute from the get-go, according to the new manager John Ault.
“We’re very union friendly, very positive with our unions [in HighGate’s East Coast hotels] and we knew that going in,” Ault said. “We fully support the decisions of our associates that shows UNITED HERE Local 11 to be the bargaining representative for them and we fully anticipate a really positive experience with the union as we move forward.”
The bargaining process will begin as soon as the workers are ready to start, according to Lorena Lopez, organizing director at UNITE HERE Local 11 which represents thousands of workers employed in hotels, restaurants, airports, sports arenas and convention centers throughout Southern California and Arizona.
“The workers in this hotel are Long Beach residents that work and spend their money in this city and it’s just the right thing to have these workers gain the respect and dignity and the voice that they deserve and for that I want to thank John Ault for having that vision,” Lopez said. “Highgate is a company that came, saw the property [and had] a vision. And their vision is a progressive vision where not only the employer thrives but working families thrive, everybody thrives and this is a goal we had from the very beginning.”
Mayor Robert Garcia praised the work done by Pearce, the workers and Highgate Hotels, noting the toll it takes on all parties involved including residents nearby who witnessed firsthand the constant demonstrations held outside the hotel over the years.
“Whenever there is a labor dispute it’s difficult obviously on the workers, it’s difficult on the management of the hotel but it’s also difficult on the residents that may live around or the visitors who are coming in and out of the community and we understand that,” Garcia said. “I think everyone knows it has been challenging for some of the residents. Obviously no one wants to see a dispute outside of their home.”
County Supervisor Janice Hahn, who made the drive to Long Beach to celebrate the occasion, called the hotel workers as those on the front lines of the tourism and hospitality industries.
“People come back to a particular hotel when they’ve had a good experience and you know who they have the experiences with? You,” she told a handful of hotel workers present at the news conference. “They have the experience with the bellman, the concierge, the housekeepers, those who are in the kitchen when they call late at night for room service and how they are treated and made to feel. It's the workers who provide the experience.”
One of those workers in attendance was Francisco Abdul Estin, who has worked as a banquet server at the Westin for 28 years.
“I live in Long Beach, I work in Long Beach and of course I spend my money in Long Beach,” Estin said. “I love the city, I am proud of to be part of this industry that welcomes many visitors. I have always been proud of my job but this step Highgate has taken makes me feel like the company respects me and the rest of the employees. I want to thank Highgate for recognizing our union and to welcome them to Long Beach.”