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Hotel workers at prominent Hollywood hotel threaten to go on strike over wages

UNITE HERE Local 355 workers.JPG
Courtesy of UNITE HERE Local 355
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Hotel workers of the Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood who are members of UNITE HERE Local 355 hold a sign that says "strike vote" outside the resort on Friday, September 2, 2022. That day, union members overwhelmingly voted to strike.

Union workers at the Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood have overwhelmingly voted to strike, after more than two months of negotiations failed to come to a deal.

The decision, which could bring 450 employees to take industrial action, came after the resort and union, UNITE HERE Local 355, could not reach a collective bargaining agreement.

One thing workers want included in their new contract: higher wages. They’re asking for a minimum pay of $20 an hour. Right now, workers like housekeepers start at $13.95.

“That is an impossible wage to live on in this economy.” said Wendi Walsh, the union’s secretary treasurer. “We have told the company that they don't have to get there all at once, but that we have to get there by the end of the contract and that we do need significant increases for the current workers to give some relief.”

The union represents 450 employees at the Diplomat, which includes housekeepers, bellmen, cooks, servers and bartenders. The collective bargaining agreement expired midnight on Aug. 31. Two days later, last Friday, members voted to strike.

Walsh said the contract initially expired on June 30, but they decided on a two-month extension in order to try to reach an agreement. It hasn’t happened yet.

“We have been negotiating in good-faith for a number of months, and will continue to work to reach an agreement that works for everyone,” said Laurens Zieren, the Diplomat’s general manager, in an email to WLRN.

“While we will not go into details on the substance of negotiations, we can say that we have already agreed to the union’s initial proposal for first-year wage increases and significant increases in pension contributions.

“We are waiting for the union to propose a new date to meet, and we look forward to continuing our conversations and reaching an agreement.”

Union employees also say they want safer working conditions. Walsh said understaffing adds more pressure and strain, putting workers’ bodies and health at risk. Housekeepers, for example, only clean rooms once a guest checks out — a change implemented because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This, according to Walsh, makes a room harder to clean, and can lead to injury.

UNITE HERE Local 355 workers.jpg
Courtesy of UNITE HERE Local 355
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Hotel workers of the Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood, who are members of UNITE HERE Local 355, outside the resort on Friday, September 2, 2022. That day, union members overwhelmingly voted to strike.

The action by Diplomat Beach Resort employees is nothing new. Since the pandemic began — and as inflation and the cost-of-living has increased across the country — workers are speaking out about low wages, wanting better benefits and demanding safer working conditions.

With that, more and more workers are also joining unions. The annual work and education poll by the marketing research firm Gallup shows approval of labor unions is at its highest point since 1965.

“I think people just said enough is enough and started getting together,” said Helene O’Brien, director of 32BJ-SEIU, a union that represents thousands of janitors, security officers and airport workers here in South Florida. “With each victory, folks get encouraged and realize ‘oh, okay, this we can do and it's not impossible. We can make changes.’”

O’Brien said janitors with their union recently won their first bargaining agreement here in Florida. And security officers in Miami-Dade County also recently were able to negotiate for seven paid sick days.

There is no set day for when the workers of the Diplomat will strike. According to reports, talk are set to resume on Monday.

In a statement released on the day of the decision, Diplomat housekeeper Antoinette Clerisier, who has worked there for 20 years, said the resort closed for 14 months when the pandemic was raging.

“Now, we are fighting to survive,” said Clerisier. “All our bills are higher, and the Diplomat expects us to live on outdated wages. We need $20 an hour now, simply to survive.”

Sherrilyn Cabrera is WLRN's PM newscast and digital producer.