The Digital Strikebreakers: LA Hotel Workers Rise Against Racism and ‘Gig’ Injustice

As we’ve seen many times, change doesn’t come without a fight. A group of hotel workers in the Los Angeles area have taken the gloves off, striking against an all too familiar foe – systemic racism – but with a new twist, a digital one.

At the heart of this industrial showdown, we find Thomas Bradley, a seasoned hospitality professional, who rolled up for his third shift at Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort and Spa and found himself face-to-face with a picket line. The strike, orchestrated by members of UNITE HERE Local 11, targeted 62 hotels across the city, all pushing for wages that actually afford them a roof over their heads in a market that’s pricing them out. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t want that?

Bradley, with his union roots, joined the picket line, standing up for the cause. But a dark cloud was looming. You see, Bradley wasn’t directly hired by the hotel. No, he was brought on board through a temporary staffing app, Instawork, an app without a strike clause. This robotic recruitment tool ended up canceling Bradley’s shifts, not just at Laguna Cliffs, but everywhere. Even though Bradley wasn’t the only one impacted, it seems like these ‘gig economy’ apps are just not built for labor activism.

The plot thickens when you throw in a race. Bradley, along with several others hired through Instawork during the strike, is Black. As you can imagine, the striking workers were not thrilled with this discovery. Despite decades of efforts by the union to promote racial diversity in the industry, it seems hotels only hire Black workers as temporary strikebreakers, not for permanent roles.

Take Andrea Rodriguez’s view, a striking housekeeper: “This company brought in African American workers to break our strike, but once we came back in they let them go.” Unfair? Absolutely. An example of systemic racism? Sure seems like it.

The union workers, in a powerful show of solidarity, decided to take the fight to another level. They filed charges against the hotel’s management company, Aimbridge, for using an illegal management system, in the form of Instawork.

To add fuel to the fire, the housing situation for many of these workers, including Bradley, is nothing short of catastrophic. As housing prices soar in Los Angeles, many workers find themselves living out of their cars or commuting for hours to reach their workplaces. It’s a harsh reality that deserves immediate attention.

But hey, not everything is doom and gloom. In the midst of these troubles, UNITE HERE Local 11 is pushing hard for a contract that encourages hotels to hire more Black workers and provide sustainable wage increases to tackle the housing crisis.

Bradley’s temporary ban from Instawork was lifted (after the media got involved, of course), and he secured a regular job at a union hotel. It’s a positive outcome, but let’s not forget that discrimination and unfair policies still run deep in the hospitality industry and the gig economy.

The struggle continues. But, as we’ve seen, these hospitality workers aren’t backing down. They’re challenging the status quo, demanding fair pay, and fighting racism. And honestly, it’s about time. Stay tuned for more updates on this battle for justice, equality, and a living wage.