Officials with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office on Monday announced an investigation into labor practices at hotels across L.A. County after allegations that some hotels are hiring unhoused refugees living in a shelter on Skid Row to replace striking union workers, particularly in the housekeeping departments.
Unite Here Local 11, the union representing thousands of workers in the largest hotel strike in U.S., brought the issue of working conditions for migrants hired at L.A. hotels to the attention of District Attorney George Gascón, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Hotel front desk workers, cooks, housekeepers and others began their strike in July, demanding better working conditions, higher wages, health insurance and pensions.
According to the Times reporting, nearly a dozen refugees, primarily from Venezuela and Colombia, confirmed that they had been hired at hotels where workers were striking outside, with some saying they had been given heavy workloads, long hours and were forced to work without breaks.
“Some said they were given no prior information on how much they would be paid hourly, although others said they were told on their first day that they would be paid $19 an hour,” the Times wrote.
A 17-year-old migrant, a student at Belmont High School who spoke to the outlet on the condition of anonymity, said he missed two days of school to clean rooms at the Holiday Inn LAX, and that he and his mother, who also works as a housekeeper there, were paid through the banking app Zelle.
The management company that runs the Holiday Inn LAX did not respond to the Times questions about whether the staffing agency it used to hire the teen “had secured appropriate permits to employ minors.”
“We take these egregious allegations with the utmost seriousness,” District Attorney Gascón said in a new release. “The mistreatment of vulnerable workers and their exploitation will not be tolerated. We will conduct an exhaustive investigation, working closely with UNITE HERE Local 11 and other stakeholders to ensure strict compliance with labor laws and protect the rights and dignity of all workers.”
Federal law allows asylum seekers and refugees to work in the U.S. and hotels are within their rights to hire replacement workers during the strike.
However, Kurt Petersen, co-president of Unite Here Local 11, told the Times that employers “who hired migrants ‘had stooped to a new low’ by tapping a vulnerable group of workers to undermine employees striking for a living wage.”
“I do wonder how a hotel is supposed to know whether a person is homeless if they list an address and show up bathed and clean and sober?” Keith Grossman, an attorney for dozens of SoCal hotels in negotiations with Unite Here Local 11, told the Times in an email. He added that the allegations “appear to be another red herring generated by Local 11.”
Gascón said the investigation will closely examine the hiring practices of hotels in Santa Monica and L.A. with a focus on the “alleged employment of unhoused refugees” and claims that some of those hired were among migrants bussed to L.A. by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
“We urge individuals with pertinent information to courageously come forward and share their experiences. Witnesses, hotel employees, and others with knowledge regarding this matter are strongly encouraged to reach out to our office’s Consumer Protection Division at 213-257-2540,” the release stated.