Hunger strike at the Hilton

SOME 50 people gathered outside San Diego's Mission Valley Hilton on April 5 for a press conference kicking off a five-day hunger strike. Members of UNITE-HERE Local 30 and other union supporters say the hotel's new owners Tarsadia (part of Evolution) is using immigration enforcement policy to destroy a union organizing drive by their employees.

Workers began organizing under the previous management, HEI. "We decided to organize ourselves to ask for better benefits," said Leticia Nava, one of nine workers facing termination. "We make $8.86 per hour, have to clean 17 rooms per shift, and we don't have insurance."

When the hotel was sold, Tarsadia agreed to keep all 110 workers. That victory came after weeks of protest, including a sit-in where 20 people were arrested. But elation at this victory quickly soured when Tarsadia announced that it planned to audit workers' Social Security numbers using the federal government's notoriously inaccurate E-Verify system, despite many workers having 10 or more years on the job. "I believe E-Verify is being used as a legal way to bust a union drive," said hunger striker Michelle Gutierrez.

"We've seen this before," said Labor Council President Lorena Gonzalez, who pointed out that last year 1,000 local unionized janitors faced similar audits during their campaign for a new contract.

According to the San Diego Free Press, the workers enjoy broad support:

Joining them at [the press conference] were Rep. Scott Peters; State Senator Ben Hueso; San Diego City Council President Todd Gloria; Lorena Gonzalez, Secretary-Treasurer, San Diego Labor Council; Brigette Browning, President, UNITE-HERE Local 30; Pedro Rios, chairperson, San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium; Christian Ramirez, Alliance San Diego; Sid Voorakkara; representatives from SEIU-UHWW Local 1877 and United Taxi Workers of San Diego.

Hunger strikers and their supporters plan to hold actions throughout the grueling five days without food to demand that all nine workers--the San Diego 9--keep their jobs. As Nava said, "We are only going to be able to win better benefits by defending all of us."