Organizing the workers of the Westin Long Beach Hotel in California: Support from the Network of Trustees for Responsible Investment (RAIR) and IRCANTEC in France

This hotel’s story of social dialogue began in February 2015, when workers informed their managers that they wanted to launch an organizing campaign in their hotel to join UNITE HERE, a California union committed to defending the good practices in the hotel industry.

The 500-room luxury hotel in Los Angeles has about 200 employees. It is managed by AEW Capital Management, an American subsidiary of the French management company Natixis.

Over the course of 2015, facing strong opposition from hotel management and degrading working conditions, UNITE HERE and the hotel workers organized demonstrations twice a week in front of the hotel.

In March 2015, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that the employees’ complaint was receivable and began an investigation. In August 2015, the workers filed a class action suit against the hotel on the grounds of wage-and-hour violations. Then, in September 2016, UNITE HERE filed a complaint against Natixis with the French National Contact Point, the government body responsible for implementing the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

Despite these actions, the employees and the union were confronted with the reality of modern capitalism. The Westin Hotel was not directly owned by Natixis. It was owned by the Utah Public Service Pensioners’ Pension Fund, which had appointed AEW Capital Management to manage its investments. And AEW had delegated the day-to-day management of the hotel to Interstate Hotels & Resorts, which manages 400 hotels.

UNITE HERE faced silence and a lack of accountability on the part of each link in this investment chain. In Utah, pension fund managers made it clear that they could not intervene in the dispute, as they had delegated all decisions to AEW. And AEW did not want to engage with the union, arguing that it did not have a direct relationship with UNITE HERE. UNITE HERE then turned to Natixis, which argued that it was not involved in the conflict and did not understand then the controversy.

The RAIR –the French Network of Trustees for Responsible Investment – was alerted to the situation and contacted Ircantec, a French pension fund that uses Natixis as one of its investment managers.

With the support of the President of Ircantec, Jean-Pierre Costes, the RAIR convened Natixis’s directors in the summer of 2017. Confidential exchanges led to a solution within 3 months: the management of the hotel was entrusted to a buyer that was willing to extend union recognition to workers.

Workers were able to organize and unionize and are currently negotiating, with their new management, a labour agreement.

By: Luc Prayssac, President, RAIR