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Hilton Anaheim Hotel Workers Win Raises, Pensions and Panic Buttons

Protesting the Hilton. Photo by Gabriel San Roman

Hilton Anaheim hotel workers banged on drums, chanted “Sí, se puede!” during picket protests and even shut down a busy resort-area intersection by the convention center [1] in the fight for living wages. Ready to strike, the campaign returned to the negotiating table with momentum where Unite Here Local 11, the union that represents the workers, and the hotel reached a tentative agreement last week that boosts pay five dollars over five years, provides pensions and equips housekeepers with panic buttons against sexual harassment.

Hotel workers overwhelmingly approved the new contract with a 98 percent vote on Monday, averting a strike authorized in December. “This contract is the best contract that we’ve had in the past 33 years I’ve worked at the Hilton,” Javier Espinosa, a cook at the Hilton Anaheim, tells the Weekly in Spanish. “We’ve never gained such big raises. It’s something historic.”

Hilton Anaheim became the 20th hotel to settle in Unite Here Local 11’s coordinated campaigns in Los Angeles and Orange County that demanded $25 an hour for workers [2]. The new labor agreement follows a similar one approved for 200 workers at the Sheraton Park Hotel at the Anaheim Resor [3]t on Jan. 30 that won $21.81 hourly wages for housekeepers by contract’s end while providing panic buttons and pension increases.

“Our strategy of uniting with the Sheraton and with the 20 hotels in Los Angeles is what gave us the additional power,” says Austin Lynch, Unite Here Local 11’s organizing director. “The strike votes were critical. The civil disobedience action showed them that we had community support and then the Sheraton caving showed them it was only a matter of time.”

The bigger hotel between the two, the Hilton Anaheim contract covers 850 workers. Housekeepers started out making $16.01 an hour and will see pay raise five dollars over the course of the five-year contract to $21.01 by Jan. 1, 2023. The same wage scale applies to all non-tipped hotel workers, no matter the starting salary. Asked for a response on the settlement, a Hilton spokesperson offered the following, “We are pleased to have reached agreement with Unite Here Local 11 on a new contract for our valued team members at Hilton Anaheim.”

In the #MeToo era, panic buttons have become an important demand for women hotel worker safety. “In the housekeeping department, it’s very important,” Minerva Lopez, a Hilton Anaheim housekeeper, says in Spanish. “Nothing has happened to me, thank God, but I’ve heard from other women workers at hotels who’ve experienced sexual harassment. If someone is feeling unsafe, they can use that button to quickly bring help.”

Along with panic buttons and pay raises, the union gained more key concessions from the company, especially in the form of a defined benefit pension plan. They also beat back efforts by the Hilton Anaheim to open a non-union restaurant in the lobby to essentially complete with the union staffed Mix Restaurant and Lounge. The hotel chain won’t be able to introduce programs that allow guests to go without room cleaning for several days to the detriment of housekeepers, either.

“All of this is based on workers being united and fighting for their rights,” says Espinosa. “That’s what we did to win a good contract.”

The latest victory at the Hilton Anaheim caps off a series of wins for Unite Here Local 11 in the resort-area. In September, the union gained raises for housekeepers at a trio of Disney-owned hotels [4] that took effect in late January. And then came the Sheraton Park setting a new standard for wages in the local hospitality industry.

But the fight is far from over, hotel workers say.

“The cost of living here in Anaheim is very expensive,” Lopez, a resident, adds. “Our goal was $25 an hour in five years. That’s why I say our goals don’t end here. We still have to fight.”