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