Building Power for Hotel Workers

Union housekeepers march with a 60 foot long quilt that documents their on-the-job injuries.

The history of L.A.’s hotel workers union (UNITE HERE Local 11) is one of labor history’s great turnaround stories. In the 1970s the union was in decline. Activists fought for years to make the union more welcoming to its immigrant and Spanish-speaking membership, but the entrenched leadership group held on to power. In 1989, reformers finally took control when Maria Elena Durazo became the first Latina to lead a major Los Angeles union. Under Durazo, the union transformed into an organizing powerhouse.  

Local 11’s contract campaigns were examples of organized labor’s new assertiveness in the 1990s. More hotels were controlled by multinational corporations and hotel management in Los Angeles resisted efforts to unionize their workers. Under Durazo’s leadership, Local 11 built worker committees in every workplace it represented and mobilized members for dramatic public actions that put pressure on hotels and politicians to negotiate good contracts for workers.

The union also pioneered new strategies for promoting the rights of all workers, not just its own members, and developed alliances with faith leaders and community organizations. Local 11 partnered with other progressive groups to fund the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), a nonprofit research and advocacy organization that helped to win job and wage protections in the Los Angeles City Council, supported strikes, and advocated for equitable urban development policies, environmental justice, and immigrant rights. In recent years the union has grown to represent more than 30,000 workers in southern California and Arizona.

Unite Here Local 11 Oral History Project

Unite Here Local 11 Video Collection

Unite Here Local 11 Records (external link)

Primary Sources

  • Raise L.A. Coalition Victory, 2014

    A higher minimum wage for workers in big hotels Supporters of the Raise L.A. coalition celebrate a vote of the Los Angeles city council in September 2014. Under the new law, large nonunion hotels in Los Angeles would raise their minimum wage to $15.37 by 2015. The campaign was part of a multi-year strategy led…

  • I am a Human Being | Soy un Ser Humano

    In September 2006, UNITE HERE Local 11 organized what was likely the largest act of civil disobedience in Los Angeles History. Union members, faith leaders, elected officials, and community allies joined in a large march to protest low wages at corporate hotels along Century Blvd outside of Los Angeles International Airport. The protest demonstrated the…

  • Victory at Last: Hotel workers reflect on contract victory (2005)

    For 14 months during 2004-2005, UNITE HERE Local 11 mounted an assertive campaign to win a contract with employers represented by the Los Angeles Hotel Employers Council. Building on the union’s rank-and-file strategy, hotel workers organized repeated delegations to articulate their demands to hotel management. The union also mobilized community allies and the labor movement…

  • We call each other sister unions

    Rocio Sáenz recalls the spirit of solidarity among unions in the early 1990s I come from Mexico City, and I had a union there. Even though, looking back at the unions in Mexico, they were often very corrupt, at the time I thought it was better than nothing. When I came to the U.S., I…

  • Miguel Contreras: Warrior for Working Families

    As leader of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, Miguel Contreras (1952-2005) reshaped LA’s unions into a powerful political, economic, and social force. The child of farm workers, Contreras was an organizer for the United Farm Workers union (UFW), and later the Hotel and Restaurant Employees union (HERE). He led the Los Angeles County…

  • Taking on the New Otani (1996)

    After a majority of workers at the New Otani Hotel in downtown Los Angeles supported unionization, hotel management refused to negotiate. Members of HERE Local 11 from other Los Angeles hotels pledged to support the New Otani workers with weekly demonstrations that escalated into long-lasting boycott. This 1996 video produced by HERE Local 11 documents…