For immediate release
December 2, 2011
Hotel workers stand to collect thousands in backpay for unpaid breaks
LOS ANGELES – Workers from the popular W Hollywood Hotel filed wage and hour complaints on December 1 with the State of California, alleging hotel management has broken state law by not allowing workers to take breaks while on the job.
In three dozen complaints, W housekeepers, bellman and other workers demand that hotel-owner HEI Hospitality pay them thousands in back pay for repeatedly denying 10-minute breaks to them.
The W workers’ filings marks the third time workers at HEI-owned or managed hotels in Southern California have filed missed break complaints against their employer. So far, a State official found the Embassy Suites in Irvine guilty of denying rest breaks to eight workers and ordered the hotel pay workers $36,000 in back pay. Other workers from that hotel, and the Hilton Long Beach, where workers also filed claims, have yet to go before a judge.
What makes this situation unique is that the hotel’s owner, HEI Hospitality, gets its capital to purchase hotels from prestigious universities such as Harvard, Princeton, University of Chicago, among others.
Last week, Yale University announced its decision not to reinvest in HEI. Earlier this year, Brown University announced that it will not reinvest in HEI until the University is confident that HEI respects workers’ rights, and University of Pennsylvania stated publicly that it had no current plans to make future investments in HEI-sponsored funds.
Student organizations have protested their university investments in HEI nationwide. Sam Wohns, a sophomore at Harvard University, said, “It is unconscionable for socially minded institutions to invest in a company that exploits workers by owning or operating sweatshop hotels. I hope that university endowments make a public commitment to not reinvest in HEI Hospitality.”
Workers say they missed breaks generally because the workload is too heavy. W workers called attention to the problem in October by holding a one-day strike. Housekeepers say they had to rush, cleaning as fast as possible, and were not given enough time to clean the rooms.
“I have found rooms trashed from guests’ partying—feather pillows split open, balloons, glitter and decorations on the wall, cake thrown on the ceiling, cigarette butts and ashes on the floor, lipstick letters on the mirrors, rose petals everywhere, candle wax hardened on furniture—we have to clean it all up and fast,” said Velasquez.
Workers submitted the complaints to the California Department of Industrial Relations, a state office that enforces labor standards.
California state law allows workers two 10-minute rest breaks and one 30-minute rest break in an eight-hour shift. According to the law, for every day that a rest break is missed, the worker is entitled to one hour of pay from the employer; and for every day that a meal break is missed, the employee is entitled to another hour of pay. Failure to pay for missed breaks amounts to wage theft.