Striking Workers at Los Angeles Hotel, Now a Homeless Shelter, Urge City to Help

Striking Workers at Los Angeles Hotel, Now a Homeless Shelter, Urge City to Help

Striking hotel workers demonstrate at City Hall in downtown Los Angeles on Feb. 14, 2024. (Courtesy of Unite Here Local 11)

Beige Luciano-Adams

Beige Luciano-Adams

2/15/2024

Updated: 2/15/2024

Dozens of striking hospitality workers gathered Feb. 14 at City Hall to implore officials to intervene in what they describe as untenable working conditions at LA Grand Hotel.
Since 2021, the 500-room hotel has been used as an interim homeless shelter, first under the county’s pandemic-era Project Room Key, then under Inside Safe, Mayor Karen Bass’ signature homelessness initiative.
During public comments at the City Council meeting, Unite Here Local 11 members, almost all of them senior-age veteran employees, addressed the council, mostly in Spanish. They described violence, threats, unsafe conditions, understaffing—and the uncertainty that lies ahead after eight months of stalled contract negotiations.
“The city has ignored all the workers of LA Grand Hotel that have been working with homeless people for the past four years,” said Ana Pineda, a housekeeper at LA Grand for 19 years.
“Our conditions of work are the same as the people staying there,” said Gabriela Valencia, a housekeeper who has worked at the hotel for 30 years.
Maribel Fajardo, a 25-year employee, stressed the difficulties of working with the current population and begged the city to help.
“The rooms are horrible, we have to work mentally to help [the residents] too, in order for us to be safe,” she said. “There is disease, we could get raped, there’s so much stuff that no one sees.”
Crucially, many workers described a recent influx of severely mentally ill residents since the start of 2024, and stressed that employees never received any special training to work with this population. Rather, they were forced to figure it out on their own.
Workers said they never imagined transitioning from serving tourists in a five-star hotel, to serving the city’s homeless population. (Courtesy of Unite Here Local 11)

Workers said they never imagined transitioning from serving tourists in a five-star hotel, to serving the city’s homeless population. (Courtesy of Unite Here Local 11)

Ms. Fajardo and others described dealing with erratic, drug-addicted and mentally ill residents who scream and insult them. “We have to figure it out, how to act nice with them, how to treat them.” Asked whom they call in case of incidents, she said, “There’s no one. We call the security but they can’t do anything, they can’t touch them.”
The site, formerly administered by the Salvation Army, has been under new management since last year. And while workers were promised improvements and more staffing, including a minimum of two security guards per floor, there is still only one, employees said.
“When they don’t want us to clean their room, they scream at you ... insult you,” Ms. Fajardo told The Epoch Times. “We have to just stay quiet and listen to them. That’s our protection, for us to just be quiet and them to act this way with us.”
Ms. Fajardo said the Salvation Army used to interface with residents. “Now it’s us that has to deal with them. ... No one wants to work with them, they know the risks, so that’s why we’re short-staffed.”
All of the workers who spoke with The Epoch Times had spent nearly two decades or more working at the hotel; many were in their 70s, still doing work that is grinding under normal circumstances, let alone under current conditions. No one imagined transitioning from serving tourists in a five-star hotel, to serving the city’s homeless population without adequate guidance, training or support.
“Some are people who are [mentally ill], or do drugs, or lost their livelihood, or we’ve also had some veterans. We try to serve them the same as anyone else. They are human beings,” Ms. Pineda said. “We’re in the fight because we want to do a good job for them.”
Most only took a short time off work when the hotel closed for about five weeks in 2020. Workers got a temporary pay bump of $5 extra per hour during the pandemic, but that only lasted a matter of months. Local 11 representatives say they are striking for humane workloads, proper staffing, a pay raise to keep current with rising housing costs, a pension to retire with dignity and affordable health care.
A striking hotel worker addresses officials during a City Council meeting on Feb. 14, 2024. (Courtesy of Unite Here Local 11)

A striking hotel worker addresses officials during a City Council meeting on Feb. 14, 2024. (Courtesy of Unite Here Local 11)

Since its conversion to a massive homeless shelter during the pandemic, the LA Grand has become increasingly embattled.
Just last month, the owner of an adjacent private school, which rented the first three floors of the hotel, filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit against the building’s owner, claiming the presence of Inside Safe residents created a dangerous environment that ultimately forced the school to close.
The property is owned by Shen Zhen New World I, a Chinese real estate company that was fined $4 million last year in connection with the corruption case that brought down former City Councilman Jose Huizar.
Shen Zhen’s billionaire owner, Wei Huang, who was also charged with fraud and bribery, is considered a fugitive by the U.S. government.
The city contracted with Shen Zhen to house Inside Safe participants in 2022 and has extended its lease several times, paying the company tens of millions of dollars.
The mayor’s office has indicated current residents will ultimately be moved to the Mayfair Hotel, which the city is in the process of purchasing, but has not provided a timeline. Union representatives said they do not have a clear answer about whether or when the property will be vacated, closed or renovated.
In the meantime, workers who have helped shoulder the twin burdens of the pandemic and the homelessness crisis are wondering what will happen to their jobs.
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Beige Luciano-Adams

Beige Luciano-Adams

Author

Beige Luciano-Adams is an investigative reporter covering Los Angeles and statewide issues in California. She has covered politics, arts, culture, and social issues for a variety of outlets, including LA Weekly and MediaNews Group publications. Reach her at beige.luciano@epochtimesca.com and follow her on X: https://twitter.com/LucianoBeige

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