The tony Andaz boutique hotel on Sunset in West Hollywood was the site of chanting, marching and peaceful arrests tonight, as hundreds of workers in tough negotiations with Hyatt, which owns Andaz, demonstrated against the hotel chain.
Adding to the entertainment, as Sheriff's deputies moved in to disperse the crowd, rich hipsters and bros could be seen in the windows of the Andaz taking photos and calling their friends back in Brooklyn, or whatever.
Health care and hours cut during the recession but not restored are the key points of disagreement in the negotiations, said Leigh Shelton, spokeswoman for Unite Here Local 11, the hotel union. The union represents a bit more than 700 Hyatt workers, about 600 of them at the Century City Hyatt, plus more than 100 at Andaz.
Traffic on Sunset was closed as workers marched in front of the building.
The hip hotel bar in hearing distance of the chanting in English and Spanish -- "No justice, no peace!" -- looked nearly empty. (You try to enjoy a $15 cocktail while the proletarians whine about health care.)
Through a spokesman, Andaz put out a statement touting its pro-worker policies. The hotel continues to honor the expired contract, including heath, retirement, vacation and other benefits; the hotel pays nearly $10,000 per full time employee per year into the health and retirement fund; Andaz pays higher wages than any hotel in West Hollywood; workers get to stay at Hyatt hotels for free; the hotel provides education and training opportunities, in areas including service, safety, computer and technology and improv classes. Improv classes? Really? The backbreaking work of cleaning hotel rooms must be hilarious.
After the marching, the guy who played Smash Williams on "Friday Night Lights" gave a rousing speech about workers standing up to corporate America. Apparently, he's quit acting to join the clergy. Too bad, we really liked him in "FNL," though it's also pretty cool that he would give it up -- and all the trappings, like staying at a place like Andaz -- to go work for poor people (who take improv classes.)
As for the arrests, they went off peaceably -- the union and the Sheriff's Department had it all worked out beforehand. After about 30 minutes of speeches, the department told the workers to disperse. A few dozen stayed in the street, sitting on a red carpet. Buses rolled up, they were arrested and taken away, without incident. Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said they'd be cited for failing to disperse, a misdemeanor, and released. In the end, 63 were arrested.
One interesting aspect of the arrests: Everybody -- union organizers and police officers alike -- trained their cameras on each other, like a hall of mirrors, all post-modern like. Seems as if police want to make sure everyone knows they weren't using excessive force, and that the protesters had, indeed, failed to disperse.
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We interviewed Ignacio Ruiz, 59 and a banquet server at the Hyatt Century Plaza since 1970, before he was arrested. "Hyatt is trying to take advantage of the economic crisis, trying to get one worker to do the work of two," he said.
Ruiz, a shop steward, has been arrested five times at various labor demonstrations. "My family backs me up," said Ruiz, who came here from Mexico in 1960 and became a citizen a decade ago.
As we noted last week, this thing with Hyatt is a headache for the Obama Administration, as Obama is close to both Unite Here and the Pritzkers, the first family of Hyatt.
Steve La contributed to this report.