Hilton and Hyatt on Strike in Southern California

By Daniel Lichtenstein-Boris

I can’t remember her name. It might have been Frida. She had worked for Hilton in Pasadena for 35 years after immigrating to Los Angeles from Nicaragua. At about 5’2, she smiled and chatted with her coworkers, wearing a khaki hat with a drooping wide brim in the still cool Sunday morning sun. She’s worked in practically every position at Hilton.

She fell backwards a week ago on the hotel stairs and hit her head. Hospitalized, she got 11 staples; the doctor released her as ready to work the next day. Luckily, she smiled, the hotel was on strike. Not as bad.

Two hundred hotel workers marched in a wide circle in Hilton Pasadena’s driveway Sunday July 23rd in a four-day strike, stopping periodically as cars and taxis drove up to drop and pick up passengers. With bullhorns, whistles, and a brass band, the workers outside cheered and chanted. “Al norte al sur, al este a oeste, ganaremos este huelga cueste lo que cueste!” Unite,’ unite,’ con la lucha unite’! Unite, unite, with the strike unite!

42 hotels are on strike in southern California, represented by the 32,000 members of UNITE HERE Local 11. A hotel work in a bright red union t-shirt with the words “Huelga” on her back. She worked at the Hyatt in Glendale. Wages have not kept up with the cost of living, she told me, and the hotels don’t want to hire more people. They make us work everywhere, in every position all day long. But they don’t want to pay overtime.

Hotel workers want an immediate $5 dollars an hour raise, with $3 bumps to follow annually over the next three years, totaling $11. Most hotel workers earn $20 or $21 dollars an hour. To address the homelessness crisis and expand a fledgling pandemic era California based pilot program, the union members have brought up support for housing the homeless in hotels during contract negotiations. But hotels filed unfair labor practices against the hotel workers union.

The Santa Monica Lookout reported on July 6th that “the Coordinated Bargaining Group’s charges claim that UNITE HERE Local 11 is insisting that hotels “must agree to support a ballot measure to house the homeless together with other hotel guests.”

“Insisting that these provisions must be in any contract settlement and striking to include them is not only unlawful, but it is also a real obstacle to reaching agreement on a contract,” said Keith Grossman, the spokesperson for the group.

“If the Union really wanted an agreement to help the employees, it would have dropped these issues long ago instead of taking employees out on strike over them.”

Housekeepers at Los Angeles area hotels earn $20 an hour, and dishwashers and cooks earn $22. A $5 dollar an hour pay raise may seem like a lot, but an LA area worker earning $20 in 2018 now earns $16.30, adjusted for inflation. With the end of the eviction moratorium, the expected rise in rent with the 2026 World Cup and 2028 Olympics, and escalating cost of transportation to commute to luxury hotels from inland homes, the hotel strike speaks to many workers’ frustration, fears, and hope.

The Hyatt and Hilton hotel chains’ owners say they want to do something about poverty and homelessness too.

They certainly are big enough to do so.

According to its Securities and Exchange Commission 10-K filing, Hilton earned $1.26 billion in profits on $8.77 billion in revenue, or a 14% profit rate in 2022. The hotel chain added 48,300 new hotel rooms, to its 7,165 owned, leased, or franchised properties. The Hyatt hotel chain includes 1,263 hotels. In 2022, Hyatt earned $455 million in profits on $5.9 billion in revenue, a 7.7% profit margin, approximately 45% less than Hilton’s.

The corporate owners of both Hilton and Hyatt hotel chains use their wealth to donate to charities through family foundations.

The Conrad N Hilton Foundation has $8.4 billion dollars in net assets. The nonprofit organization grew by $794 million dollars in 2021. It donated $321 million that year, with another $174 million dollars promised to organizations. Its mission, featured prominently on its website, is “improving the lives of individuals living in poverty and experiencing disadvantage throughout the world.”

In 2023, it has the following program areas; Catholic Sisters, Foster Youth, Global Early Childhood Development – East and Southern Africa, Opportunity Youth, Refugees, Safe Water, and Partnerships, which is designed to “surface solutions towards the shared global goal of influencing funding flows and policy decisions to better resource local actors.”

In Los Angeles, the Conrad N Hilton foundation has received accolades for expanding public/private partnerships to end homelessness throughout LA County, mentoring youth, and aligning public and private resources to create permanent supportive housing units. In February, the foundation advertised a job posting for a program officer to alleviate homelessness, starting at $160,000 annually. In 2020 the foundation selected Homeboy Industries for the 2020 Hilton Humanitarian Prize. This “speaks to the power of standing with people who have been systemically marginalized, creating space for them to heal and invest in their future, with the intention of ending the socio-economic inequities that impact communities.,” said Peter Laugharn, president and CEO, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. A Homeboy Industries Pasadena Catering Cook starts at $21 dollars an hour.

Recently, along with the Ralph M. Parsons Foundation, Weingart Foundation, Reissa Foundation, Cedars-Sinai, Specialty Family Foundation, and WHH Foundation, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation commissioned a study to create a public private partnership to end the foster care to homelessness pipeline. A May 2023 LA Times article reported that the foster care study “found that every $1 in outright grants would support an additional $9 in investment, with a return of 8%. That’s the target of foundations seeking a sweet spot for investment in projects that support their philanthropic mission.”

Unlike the Hilton family, which consolidates their charitable donations in one entity, Hyatt’s bosses operate several independent foundations. Hyatt’s owners include Thomas J. Pritzker, Nicholas J. Pritzker, Jennifer N. Pritzker, John A. Pritzker, Linda Pritzker, Karen L. Pritzker, Penny Pritzker, Daniel F. Pritzker, Anthony N. Pritzker, Gigi Pritzker Pucker, and Jay Robert Pritzker.

According to the company’s recent 2022 Securities and Exchange Commission filing, the family does not get along. Hyatt reports to investors that, “disputes among Pritzker family members and among Pritzker family members and the trustees of the Pritzker family trusts may… have a negative effect on the trading price of our Class A common stock. In the past, disputes have arisen… and in certain cases, proceedings were initiated, against certain Pritzker family members.”

The JB and MK Pritzker Family Foundation earned $5 million in revenue in 2021 and an additional $14.7 million from capital gains, ending the year with $156 million dollars in net assets. JB Pritzker is Governor of Illinois. The foundation dispersed $10 million dollars to Northwestern University, $1 million to Harvard, $3.1 million to research early childhood education in New England, $1 million to the Chicago Community Trust for Housing and Behavioral Health, $1.6 million for Alliance Chicago to fund education on reproductive healthcare, and disbursed a total of $53 million dollars in 2021.

Another Pritzker foundation in Chicago has $654 million dollars in assets, with Thomas Pritzker, Gigi Pritker Pucker, Penny Pritzker, and Nicholas Pritzker as corporate officers. The non-profit earned $53 million in profits in 2020 according to its non-profit tax filings.

The Pritzker Family Philanthropic Fund gave over $10 million to the Jewish United Fund of Chicago and $4 million to the University of Michigan. $82 million of $190 million in net assets are invested in Central America and the Caribbean. The fund grew by $15 million dollars in 2021.

The Pritzker Traubert Foundation benefitting Traubert Bryan Ttee ended 2021 with $257 million dollars in net assets.

The Pritzker Pucker Family Foundation had total assets of $63,807,485 while earning $8.6 million in capital gains net income. The foundation disbursed over $7 million dollars including $1 million to the University of Colorado, $1.5 million to Columbia University, and $60,000 to the ACLU Foundation in 2021.

The Pritzker Military Foundation had $33 million in net assets and distributed $3.9 million that year, including $300,000 to the US Naval Institute and $700,000 to the Army Historical Foundation.

The Anthony Pritzker Fam Foundation had $135 million in assets, and unlike many other family foundations, lost $3.7 million in value in 2021. Board members include Anthony Pritzker, Jeanne Pritzker, Judy Schroffel, And Nicholas Pritzker. The foundation’s executive director Winifred Wechsler earned over $700,000.

Jay Pritzker Foundation had $33,789,125 in assets at the end of 2021. Daniel and Karen Pritzker are company officers. The foundation spent over $12 million in 2021, including $5 million to provide financial aid to California community college students.

The Margot and Thomas Pritzker Family Foundation had $68 million in assets, up from $59 million at the beginning of 2021. The foundation spent $3 million, including on Chicago based Urban Growers Collective, the Chicago Food Policy Action Council, Grow Greater Englewood, Centro de Trabajadores Unidos, and DC’s Aspen Institute. The foundation paid $9,529 in foreign taxes from passthroughs and $86,731 in federal and state taxes.

The John Pritzker Family Fund spent over $26 million in 2020, and promised another $34 million dollars of donations, mostly in San Francisco, including for the India Basin Park Project and the University of California San Francisco, including $22 million for a child, teen, and family center. The foundation paid $10 in California taxes that year.

The Robert and Mayari Pritzker Family Foundation has $2.6 million in assets, and Mayari Pritzker, Michael Lovallo, and Rebecca Spooner are directors. It contributed $348,000 in charitable donations in the most recent year, including $125,000 to Partners Asia, and the rest to Chicago based organizations.

Colonel IL James N Pritzker Charitable Distribution Fund has $75.6 million dollars in net assets, the foundation spent $8.7 million in 2020, and promised to donate another $5.3 million dollars. It gave major donations to Tulane University and the University of Minnesota, and $2000 to the Indigenous Environmental Network. Jennifer, Andrew, Tal Hava, and William Pritzker are foundation board officers.

The Lisa Stone Pritzker Family Fund unlike many Pritzker charities, is headquartered in Palo Alto, CA. The foundation had $51 million in net assets at the end of 2020. Lisa, Samuel, and Noah Pritzker are board officers. They gave about $2 million dollarsin 2020, including $120,000 to the San Francisco Museum of Art, and $2,000 to NARAL Pro Choice America.

In 2015 LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis sponsored a board motion creating the Center for Strategic Public Private Partnerships. “The power of public-private partnerships has been under-utilized within the County. This motion changes that unfortunate dynamic,” Supervisor Solis said. “With this new Center in place, we will be far better positioned to combine the best thinking and resources of government and philanthropy into programs that work for children.” The Anthony & Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation/Pritzker Foster Care Initiative and the Hilton Foundation along with 10 other major foundations immediately pledged support. The center has four main policy areas, Child and Family Well-Being, Youth Development & Empowerment, Health Equity, and Economic Security.

On January 4, 2023 the LA Times reported that Tony Pritzker is a major donor to the Los Angeles Police Foundation, where he co-chairs the technology committee. LAPD officers receive combat training at the Pritzker Combat Range.

The Pritzker’s Children’s Initiative is funding a fellow at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health to work on a plan to reduce maternal stress, to eliminate the infant mortality gap among African American babies.

In total, Pritzker foundations have over $1.7 billion dollars in tax exempt assets.

Assuming all are full time employees, raising wages by $5 dollars an hour for all 32,000 UNITE HERE Local 11 members would cost hotels $332.8 million dollars annually. Given the philanthropic interests of the owners of the Hilton and Hyatt hotel chains to support child welfare, poverty alleviation, and reducing homelessness, supporting good paying living wage jobs for working women and men aligns with their moral and ethical values.

            Some may criticize Hilton and Pritzker foundations as merely self-serving tax shelters that seek to control local governments public policy and community organizations even while enriching their owners and building the benevolent reputations of corporate titans. But their owners employ hundreds of thousands of hard-working women who through their union have negotiated good health care and retirement benefits, and stable good paying careers.

Keeping that partnership will do the most to reduce poverty, improve children’s lives, and be good citizens. It is time for Hilton and Hyatt to agree to UNITE HERE Local 11’s contract proposals and settle this strike.

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