Matt Potter 3:30 p.m., Feb. 23
Hilton management uses assault, intimidation in attempt to silence protesters
The non-profit Employee Rights Center this afternoon attempted to stage a press conference near the Hilton hotel in Mission Valley to accuse the hotel’s operator, Conneticut-based HEI Hospitality, of wage theft totaling approximately $250,000.
Those arriving to cover the event, however, were greeted by exceptionally loud music emanating from behind a hedge on the Hilton property. Throughout the event, the music continued, nearly drowning out the speakers, even after they moved their podium over a hundred feet from the noise source and were using a public address system of their own.
When I walked around the corner to ascertain the source of the music, I found two men next to a limousine with large speakers aimed at the crowd and a power cord leading back toward the hotel. As I snapped a photo with my phone, three other men wearing business suits who had been standing near the building entrance quickly approached. I was grabbed by the arms by two of the men, one of whom tried to wrench my phone from my hand and throw it to the ground. The third appeared to be filming the incident on a phone camera. After a brief struggle and explanation that I intended to resist their efforts to destroy my property, one released me and I broke the grip of the other.
I was advised I was trespassing on private property as they pursued me down the driveway, as well as that all photography on the property was forbidden. None of the individuals were willing to provide their names for this story or an explanation for the speakers aimed at the neighboring property.
Back at the adjacent parking lot, the demonstrators elected to continue with their conference, despite the noise interfering with the one television camera present. Alor Calderon of the Center introduced the problem and the speakers.
“After a thorough investigation, we found that 28 out of the 100 employees that work at the San Diego Mission Valley Hilton have credible claims against their employer,” said Calderon. “These employees are asking HEI . . . to pay a quarter-million dollars in wages and penalties due to their employees under the California labor codes.” He said the claims were currently in process with the local labor commissioner’s office.
Laura Garcia, a housekeeper at the Hilton, said her daily routine included a mandatory morning meeting, plus a trip to stock her housekeeping cart before beginning work. This would leave her about seven and a half hours, she said, to clean 16 or more rooms. She said it was routine to be denied mandatory break and meal periods while on shift.
Garcia was followed by Ramon Alarcon, a server at the property’s restaurant with 22 years of service. He says problems started when HEI took over the property several years ago. Employee shifts were cut to avoid allowing any employee to approach a full 40 hours’ work in a week, he charged. Alarcon also told of cleaning staff, cashiers, and room service workers being let go, with the remaining restaurant staff having to take over these duties. This led to the elimination of legally mandated break and meal periods and a widespread practice of employees being forced to perform labor while “off the clock.”
Rabbi Laurie Coskey, representing the Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice, closed out the program.
“Before I can bring the support of the faith community to the workers at this hotel, I need to witness [situations such as] we are experiencing at this very moment,” Coskey said over the din coming from the Hilton lot. “The music is amplified so that we don’t hear the voices of the people who work here, and it has been our experience that we have made several delegations to this very management, who have also amplified their deafness in order not to hear the pleas of the people who work here.”
A message left with the Hilton San Diego Mission Valley’s media contact seeking comment on the loudspeaker use and the identities of the men who physically assaulted me was not immediately returned.
Update 8/29/12 - a Hilton employee returned our call to categorically deny anyone was physically accosted by an employee yesterday, and also denied that excessively loud music "had been directed at a neighboring hotel." There are no other hotels directly adjacent to the Hilton.
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