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Hundreds of Hotel Workers Protest at the Andaz in West Hollywood, 63 Arrested

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A peaceful labor protest that shut down rush hour traffic on a portion of the Sunset Strip Thursday afternoon ended in numerous arrests. It was part of an effort by hotel union workers in 15 cities in the U.S. and Canada to highlight contract disputes with hotel owners.

In Los Angeles, the focus was towards the Hyatt Century City and the Hyatt Andaz in West Hollywood, where the protest took place. Workers of all types -- housekeepers, bartenders, etc -- say there have been job, hour and healthcare cuts, despite an uptick in the hotel economy. They said workplace injuries are have also increased.

Management for the Andaz has been trying to sit down at the negotiating table for two months, but union organizers refused, explained Kim Okeson, a hotel spokesperson. She said that the hotel then filed a formal federal labor law complaint on July 9th, prompting an investigation and union organizers to finally agree to a meeting. In the meantime, the hotel continues to honor an expired contract from November 30th, 2009.

Although the protest was planned, it was not permitted with the city and was considered a deliberate act of civil disobedience. "They wanted to do a protest and they wanted it to be peaceful," said Steve Whitmore, a spokesperson for the L.A. County Sheriff's Department. "They knew that people were going to get arrested and so they gave us a list of those that were going to be and so far they've done everything according to plan. Our job, obviously, is to ensure the safety and security of the city"

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The protest lasted just under three hours. Around 4:30, the city of West Hollywood closed Sunset Boulevard between La Cienega and Sweetzer, pushing traffic to other streets. "It's going to be a mess," said one city employee. By 7:30 p.m., the streets were reopened.

Hundreds of workers gathered in front of the hotel. A Hollywood-style red carpet was placed on the street where the 63 protesters who planned to be arrested sat. After the rally, which was presented as a mock ceremony, Sheriff's Deputies declared an unlawful assembly. Hundreds then headed towards the sidewalk to make way for the arrests on the street, all the while chanting "What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!" and "Sí, se puede!"