Students join the call for better working conditions

By Sandra Siagian

Staff writer

Published: Monday, September 22, 2008

Sandra Siagian
Workers protest in front of the Hilton in Downtown Long Beach with signs reading “We are the Heart of Long Beach” on Friday morning.

Hotel workers marched outside the downtown Long Beach Hilton Hotel Friday morning, protesting for equal working conditions.

Students Alejandro Lopez and Wendy Limon, members of CSULB’s La Raza Student Association, joined community organizations, concerned citizens and hotel workers at 6 a.m. in the protest calling for a union contract.

The crowd of 30 marched for a solid two hours, chanting and waving their banners, along with the support of the honking cars driving by.

“It’s going to take a while, the problem may not get fixed tomorrow, or probably not even this year,” Limon said. “But our support here shows the workers, that they have other community members behind them.”

A shared family history compelled Lopez, a junior sociology major at CSULB, and Limon, a senior criminal justice and Chicano Latino studies major, to join the protest.

“When our parents first came to this country, they started at the bottom cleaning houses and hotels. They were treated badly because they were immigrants and couldn’t speak the language and were threatened with deportation,” Lopez said. “These hotel workers are facing the same problems that my parents faced 20 years ago. I feel that nothing has changed since then. That is why I am trying to be a part of the protest to better their lives and to improve working conditions.”

A number of protests have been launched in the fight for a contract. Most of the protesters are both directly and indirectly involved with the issue and, for a number of them, this march was not their first.

UNITE HERE organized a march from the Hilton to the Long Beach life house a couple of months ago, with a solid turnout of 500 protestors joining them to voice their message.

Alexey Hartlieb-Shea, front desk worker at the Long Beach Hilton Hotel for almost two years, said a protest has happened every couple of weeks. Along with Lopez and Limon, he regularly participates in the protests and in scheduled marches.

Hartlieb-shea said, in order to earn the respect they deserve in terms of wages and benefits, is through a contract with the hotel.

“The point of this protest is to fight [for] our cause and with UNITE HERE supporting us, I’m not worried that I will get fired because if they mess with one of us, they have to deal with all of us,” Hartlieb-shea said. “The more people [hotel workers] that see committed individuals bettering themselves, the more they won’t be scared to stand up for themselves.”

UNITE HERE was one of the first organizations to picket at the Hilton entrance. The union’s mission is to improve working conditions, wages and benefits in the hospitality and textile manufacturing industries across Canada and the United States.

The diverse group, comprised largely of immigrants, say they have successfully turned hundreds of thousands of traditionally low-wage jobs around.

Ben Mantle, a UNITE HERE member at the protest, said he was standing with the workers to fight for a fair and neutral agreement from the employer.

“They need a fair and open organizing process without intimidation, fear or threats, so people can have their rights in the workplace,” Mantle said.