Thousands marched and hundreds were arrested in a protest for the rights of mostly immigrant hotel workers that shut down Century Boulevard near Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) during the evening rush hour Thursday, September 28th.
The protest marchers, comprised of immigrant workers, religious and immigrant rights leaders, community members, students and politicians, were demonstrating in support of the airport-area hotel workers in their efforts to unionize and receive better wages.
Demonstration organizers say that most of the hotel workers on the Century Boulevard Corridor are immigrants and earn 20 percent less than workers at downtown Los Angeles hotels and 30 percent less than Beverly Hills hotels.
“We wanted to take a principled stand for hotel workers and labor rights,” said Linda Piera-Avila, a Green Party member from Santa Monica. “We’re here to also raise public awareness about the situation the workers are in.
“I feel obligated to participate today.”
By the end of the three-hour demonstration, police said they had arrested approximately 280 protesters for unlawful assembly and failure to disperse, after they took part in scheduled sit-ins in front of two Century Boulevard hotels.
Event organizers called the protest, which was sponsored by the We Are America Coalition and Unite Here, one of the largest acts of nonviolent civil disobedience in the city’s history.
Hundreds of protesters said they were willing to risk being arrested to support the immigrant hotel workers in their fight to improve their working conditions.
Many Century Corridor hotel workers participated in the march but were not among those risking arrest in the sit-ins because of the fear of possibly losing their job.
“We’re here because we want to end the exploitation against immigrant workers,” claimed Ana Mendez, a banquet service worker at the Hilton Los Angeles Airport, said to be the second largest hotel in the county. “We want to take the next step to change the lifestyle of all immigrant people.”
A protest rally adjacent to the Radisson Hotel opened the event and included speakers and performances by musicians Tom Morello and Ben Harper.
After the rally ended at about 5:30 p.m., more than 2,000 people began to march with signs saying, “I am a human being,” and chanted as they headed east on Century Boulevard, closing off the major thoroughfare to the airport.
As the marchers reached the Hilton Los Angeles Airport, a large group of them sat down in the street in front of the hotel. Another large group of protesters continued down Century and sat down in front of the Westin Hotel.
Police later began to arrest those who were involved in the sit-in demonstrations.
A Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) spokeswoman said the demonstration was “very peaceful” and there were no reported incidents other than the pre-planned arrests.
The LAPD had worked with protest organizers during the planning process for the event to help ensure that the protest went safely.
LAPD Pacific Captain Bill Williams said the focus for police at the protest was to ensure that traffic kept flowing “as best as possible,” the constitutional rights of everyone involved were protected and no laws were broken.
Many of the protesters who said they were willing to be arrested at the event had reportedly given their personal information to police ahead of time, which Williams said helped “streamline the booking process.”
“It will make a difficult process a little bit better,” Williams said before the march began.
Los Angeles Airport police spokeswoman Belinda Nettles said the protest had no impact on airport operations.
“They didn’t come into the airport, so it didn’t affect our operations,” Nettles said.
While sections of Century Boulevard were shut down during the event, traffic was rerouted and motorists were still able to enter the airport from Century Boulevard by taking Airport Boulevard, she said.
Hilton Los Angeles Airport general manager Grant Coonley criticized the protest, saying it had disrupted travel on a “main throughway” to the airport. The hotel received only two complaints from customers about the event, he said.
Hotel officials have said the claims of the mistreatment of workers are false.
“We pay competitively with all of the hotels in the area,” Coonley said.
He said the non-unionized LAX Hilton would support holding an election in which workers could vote for a union.
“We’re still 100 percent behind an election,” he said. “If that’s what the employees want let’s take it to a vote.”
But many protesters at the demonstration claimed that the hotel workers are not getting good enough wages and need more affordable health insurance.
“That’s what we want for all of these people in these hotels,” said Santa Monica resident Jacqueline Martin, who works at a unionized hotel in Santa Monica. “They deserve that.”
Martin said many unionized hotel employees at the protest were willing to risk arrest as a way to show support for the rights of the thousands of airport-area hotel workers.
“We think it’s something we have to do,” Martin said. “We have to do things like this to get listened to.
“It’s a little sacrifice that we can do to help them.”