A rabbi and a professor at American Jewish University were among 63 people arrested for civil disobedience on the Sunset Strip during rush hour on Thursday , July 22. The labor protest against the Hyatt chain of hotels took place in front of the Andaz hotel near La Cienega Boulevard in West Hollywood. The Los Angeles County Sheriff Department made the arrests just before 7 p.m. at the end of a two-hour demonstration in support of hotel workers’ rights.
All 63 demonstrators were released from custody from the West Hollywood sheriff’s station by around 10:30 p.m., according to Rabbi Jonathan Klein of the economic justice advocacy group, CLUE-L.A., one of the event’s organizers. Charged with misdemeanors, those arrested could potentially face court fines, Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for the L.A. County Sheriff Department, said.
Rabbi Rachel Timoner, an assistant rabbi at Leo Baeck Temple, and Aryeh Cohen, an associate professor of rabbinic literature at AJU, were among those who deliberately allowed themselves to be taken into custody by ignoring police orders to stop sitting in the middle of Sunset Boulevard. Police, who were informed of the demonstration in advance, blocked off traffic in front of the hotel at 5 p.m., but the sit-down portion of the protest didn’t begin until about 6 p.m. The seated protestors “refusal to disperse” caused their arrest, Whitmore said.
Timoner, sitting in the middle of the street with her back against a fellow demonstrator, expressed solidarity with the hotel workers’ cause. Regarding “the gap between the haves and the haves not, Judaism obligates us to do what we can for the less fortunate,” she said. Timoner said she believes in the disruptive but peaceful tactic of a carefully organized street sit-in. “It shows that we’re not violent,” she said.
Approximately 600 people participated in the demonstration, according to a sheriff’s department spokesman. Organizers of the protest talked of a lack of progress in labor contract negotiations affecting Hyatt’s hotel cooks, bellman, dishwashers, housekeepers and other non-managerial employees. The workers’ contract expired about six months ago, said Tom Walsh, president of Unite Here Local 11, who was among those arrested.
According to supporters of the workers’ cause and representatives of the workers’ union representation—Unite Here Local 11—hotel employees may face a decrease in their healthcare benefits under a new labor contract. “The main union gripe is that these workers are basically going to lose their healthcare, or they are going to lose their wages, or other elements of their economic well-being will diminish,” Klein said.
A Hyatt Andaz media statement, made available by employees inside the hotel, denies wrongdoing against their employees. “Hyatt has been participating in union contract negotiations in good faith for nearly a year in several markets across the country” the statement says, adding that demonstrations like the one on Thursday, function for “the sole purpose of increasing union membership.”
A media statement from Unite Here blames the possible cuts in wages and benefits on the Pritzker family, owners of the Hyatt chain. Similar demonstrations took place in 15 cities across the country Thursday, according to the statement.
Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz came to the event in support of the workers. “It’s time for them to treat their workers fairly,” Koretz said of Hyatt management in an interview. He said his father had been a member of a waiter’s union that he said was a precursor of Unite Here. “I’m very supportive of labor and working families,” Koretz said.
Marching on the north side of Sunset, from the Comedy Store, next door to the Hyatt, to the hotel entrance and turning the corner at Kings Road, the demonstrators jammed the sidewalk.
Police also arrested Margarita Ramos, who works as a housekeeper at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza hotel. Speaking before the demonstration began, Ramos said, “We want to take advantage of this moment to show we want respect. We’re good workers [and] we’re making this sacrifice,” she said of a potential arrest. “We’re happy to participate in this action.”
Shortly after the protest began, rock music blared from speakers. The music served as a lively soundtrack for the demonstrators, many of them dressed in fire-truck red “Unite” T-shirts.
Demonstrators carried signs with messages like “Hyatt Sign a Fair Contract!” “Health Care is a Right!” and “Support Hotel Workers,” to emphasize their cause.