Photos by Keeley Smith.
Their signs read “Stand With Women Against Abuse," and their faces were grim as they stared into the evening twilight outside of the Westin Hotel on Ocean Boulevard in downtown Long Beach.
“We have asked the hotel for many months to honor our demand for a fair process to organize for a voice to improve our working conditions, but our words have fallen on deaf ears,” said Juana Melara, a housekeeper at the Westin. “So today we are calling for a boycott of the Hotel to support our call for justice and respect.”
Employees of the Westin Hotel in Long Beach gathered to declare a boycott of the hotel in support of demands for their right to organize fairly and unionize Tuesday evening, the next step in a series of moves made in protest against the hotel.
Hotel employees began protesting both the Renaissance and Westin’s treatment of hotel workers beginning in February, followed by a march through downtown and culminating in a lawsuit filed against the Westin in August. The pending lawsuit alleges the hotel violated the wage-and-hour law as it relates to rest breaks and meal periods, overtime, off-the-clock work, and reimbursement to workers.
In a speech downtown last June, Melara said she was forced to clean up to 18 rooms every day, often on her hands and knees, and that multiple guests had asked her for sexual favors. Restaurant server Rosa Casarrubias echoed her statements.
"There’s one time I will always remember," she said. "As soon as I saw the guest, I knew he was drunk. He was dressed in only a towel. He kept saying things like, ‘Come on honey. Come into the room.'"
Casarrubias said she looked to see if she could ask someone for help, but found no one nearby—to her horror.
"That is why we are here today, we will no longer stay silent," she said. "We are asking city leaders to help put an end to the abuse happening against women in Long Beach hotels.”
Casarrubias spoke at Tuesday’s call for a boycott as well.
“This was not an easy decision for us, but we know that declaring a boycott is [the] only way to bring attention to our demand to organize in an atmosphere of mutual respect,” Casarrubias said.
Former Long Beach City Councilmember Tonia Reyes Uranga offered her support for the boycott and explained her personal connection to the issue.
“Alongside these workers stands a strong coalition of women leaders,” Reyes Uranga said. “We know that while it is not just a women’s issue, because many men are also not respected on this job, the working women here at the Westin are our sisters, our mothers, our aunts and our daughters."