Irvine Embassy Suite workers stage walk out

IRVINE — A few dozen Embassy Suites workers who claim they are routinely denied breaks walked off the job in Irvine today, organizers said, while the hotel put the number much lower.

The workers have filed a complaint with the state Department of Industrial Relations, claiming they are owed $180,000 in back pay for denied breaks, said Nick Sifuentes of the public policy organization Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, which is helping the workers with their protest and attempt to unionize.

Rachele Smith, who has worked at the front desk of the hotel at 2120 Main St. for 2 1/2 years, said she sometimes is asked to wait to take a restroom break because the hotel doesn't have anyone who can cover for her.

"I've also had to go past my five hours to take a lunch because it was so busy and there weren't enough people,'' she said.

The hotel workers are trying to organize with help from the Unite Here union, according to Smith.

Tim Digby, interim general manager of the hotel, said only a handful of the hotel employees failed to report to work today.

"We weren't observing or head counting, but only about a half-dozen or so meant to work today did not show up for work for whatever reason,'' Digby said.

Smith said the number was far higher.

"We have a lot of housekeepers out here today (picketing), a few from the front desk. It's more than just a handful who walked out,'' Smith said.

Digby said it would be difficult to comment on the workers' grievances because hotel officials have not seen the complaint filed with the state. "But we try our very best to make sure we account for people's ability to take breaks,'' he said. "We certainly support and try our best to get them
everything they're entitled to.''

Efforts to reach parent company HEI Hotels and Resorts officials were not immediately successful.

Digby said Embassy Suites has no objection to the workers organizing, but want them to hold a secret-ballot election instead of going any other route.