Santa Monica Truth Commission – “Let us listen with a spirit of reconciliation…that we would be moved to work for justice.”


     On Thursday, November 16, 2023 faith leaders, community members, and workers packed in to the basement of St. Augustine-By-The-Sea to listen deeply to stories of violence, exploitation, and retaliation at Santa Monica hotels. To bear witness to the impact of actions by hotel employers. And to commit anew to their righteous fight for justice. 

     What a powerful evening of testimony and reflection! The Westside Voice covered the event and offered excellent context on the history of truth commissions and testimony from the night.

     Worker after worker shared inhumane conditions created by employers who are more committed to keeping them quiet than they are to creating hospitable working environments.

     The Truth Commissioners brought a true spirit of reconciliation to their work.  And they vowed to carry their stories and join the fight until justice is won.

Here are highlights from the evening. May they move you to join the righteous struggle.

Rev. Mike Kinman, All Souls Episcopal Church Pasadena

“I love that we’re doing a truth commission. [It’s modeled after the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission.]

“The meaning of reconciliation comes from Latin, meaning ‘to exchange places with the other.’ What they were invited into [in South Africa] was a telling of the truth…in a way that invited the listener to exchange places with the other. To identify deeply – mind to mind and spirit to spirit.

“Ideally, we would have the owners of the hotels here. [Instead we have a room full of community members and Truth Commissioners.] What I pray for is that we will actually engage in this listening of truth in a spirit of reconciliation…that we would be moved to work for justice.

“God, Help us to speak clearly and listen deeply and exchange truths.”

Liliana Hernandez, Fairmont Miramar Housekeeper

“Since the beginning of the strike, I feel like my every move is being recorded. There are more security cameras around.

“They are trying to intimidate us. Even by tackling us to the ground during peaceful picketing.

“They paint us as aggressive and use that as an excuse to increase security. But they don’t protect us from people who attack us and tell us to return to our countries.

“I’m asking the city to protect our rights as workers.”

Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels, Temple Beth Shir Shalom

“A long time ago, there was a labor organizer named Moses, striking against the company called Egypt. Moses experienced violence happening to other workers and he intervened.

“At the Fairmont Miramar, security guards being paid to intervene in violence didn’t do it. We have to investigate that: evidently there’s a difference in the value of the low-wage workers lives and the security people.

“Those security people were the face of the company that day and it was an ugly face.”

Delis Alejandro, St. Monica’s Catholic Church

“We should not be fearing people who are fighting for their rights. We should instead be celebrating them.

“At the heart of Catholic tradition is Catholic social teaching. One of the themes of Catholic social teaching is that of the dignity of work and the rights of workers.

“‘Economy must serve people, not the other way around. Work is more than a way to make a living, it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation. If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected: the right to productive work, and to decent and fair wages.”

Gregorio Lopez, Fired Viceroy Worker

Gregorio Lopez has worked for 20 years at the Viceroy. He was attacked with colleagues at the Fairmont Miramar on August 5th and has now been fired, having been accused of stealing headphones from a guest.

“I believe that this was retaliation against me because I support the union I am a leader of the union. It is truly ridiculous how the hotels keep coming after us.

“However my coworkers are with me…have been with me for the past 20 years and they are standing with me right now in this difficult moment. They have turned into my friends and family. I’m going to continue fighting to return to the Viceroy Santa Monica and I hope that all of our goals are met with this strike.”

Patricia Ibañez – Suspended housekeeper Le Meridien Delfina

“I love my work. I talk to my kids about doing work with love and care and with dignity. I have been disrespected in my workplace, especially during this strike.

“Since I’ve taken a role of leadership with the union, I’ve noticed a change with management. And now they have let me go and won’t tell me why.

“They’ve shut the door on me as a worker but they can’t shut the door on me as a leader.”

Anjuli Kroenheim Katz – Bend the Arc

“I see you. I feel your story. And I’m grateful to hear it and bear witness.

“Rabbi Neil talked about Moses, the labor organizer. Moses and God escalated tactics pretty dramatically in the story of Pharoah in Egypt.

“I’m proud that you continue the [nonviolent] fight with your colleagues. Because you need to escalate and build power. I pray you win soon, because you deserve your wages and your work.”

Sister Judy Vaughan, Alexandria House and Poor Peoples Campaign

“Today we have learned a lot about human rights violations. We’ve heard about exploitation.

“Matthew Desmond [Author of Evicted and Poverty By America] defines exploitation: he writes that in the United States, one side—the majority—are annihilated, enslaved, colonized or dispossessed in order to enrich the others who are the minority.

“The US has a history—a culture—of exploitation, whether you’re talking about human trafficking, colonization, exploitation of workers in other countries.

But tonight we’re focusing on the exploitation of folks here, right in our own backyard, in our own reality, in our own city.

“We heard an example of what I would say is a tactic of those in power, and that’s to divide folks against each other to make us mistrust each other or set folks different apart from each other.

“It’s a tactic because in fact, when we all come together. Were much stronger or more in the number than those who really hold the power.”

Saba Waheed, UCLA Labor Center

“We know from our research that creating laws and policies is half the work. The other half is the implementation. It’s the enforcement. It’s the continued protection to make sure those laws are actually protecting workers.

“Today, the worker stories [of the violence, the retaliation, and wage theft] are a call to action. The city, this community, we’ve made such great gains on worker rights, but it needs to continue through implementation.

“We have recommendations the city should investigate the cases we heard today about the violence and about the retaliation. If replacement workers were being brought in to cross the strike lines, it should be following up on whether workers are experiencing…wage theft, meal breaks, not getting paid, their wages or getting paid improperly of their wages.

“We need to look into the staffing agencies if we are undercutting employee relationships through these intermediaries. We need to know who they are and we can’t let the companies themselves off the hook by having this intermediary organization.

“Over the decades, Santa Monica has led the nation to pass policies to protect workers for exactly moments like this.”

Mike Bonin, former LA City Councilmember

“The hotels are aware that this [violence, retaliation, and exploitation] is happening in the spotlight and as a Commissioner, one of my findings is they’re doing this deliberately.

“They’re doing this deliberately because if they can break you (in the labor movement) here they can do it anywhere. And we’re not going to let that happen.

“When you hear stories like this, a lot of times the reaction is, ‘There ought to be a law against this. Well, there are lots of laws against this stuff. In Santa Monica, Long Beach, and other places around LA County, there are laws against the kind of mistreatment and violence and exploitation.

“Changing the law provides…a very clear measure of success or failure, and everybody’s paying attention when a vote happens. But enforcement happens behind the scenes, in the shadows. It can falter even when there are no bad actors involved in the city.

“We need to document and make the people who are responsible aware of everything that is going on. And tonight you sure did a hell of a good job in doing that. And we need to present these findings to them.

Every action has to be followed up on. It has to be done consistently and it has to be done relentlessly.

“The community in Santa Monica, the community in Los Angeles, the religious community, and the broader community…we are going to stand with you. We are going to insist that this enforcement happen. We are going to insist and fight for justice. For you. Si Se Puede!”

Vivian Rothstein – Community Activist, CLUE Board Member

“The hotel industry plays a very important role in the financial life of this city. We rely on the work that you [workers] do. And there is no reason you should be treated in the ways that have been described.

“The Viceroy sits on city-owned land. There is a an agreement between the city and the owners of that hotel. And I’m sure it does not allow violations of federal and state labor laws.

“The Fairmont Miramar introduced proposals to expand, and many of us supported them because we felt it was a union shop and it was a union hotel and it was fair. And they have taken advantage of the community.

“So the exploitation goes very, very deep. You are on the frontlines and you feel the most suffering. But the community needs to know about this betrayal.

“Santa Monica prides itself on being progressive and fair, supporting justice and equality. Many people would be mortified to see what’s going on.

“This coalition has to be rebuilt again. You are taking the lead. Immigrant workers over the history of the United States have been the ones that have fought for decent labor laws.

“One generation after another. The country and our companies haven’t learned that you do business well when you treat your employees well.

“But we need to teach them again, and we need to teach them in Santa Monica. And with the strength of your commitment and your leadership and the stories of your suffering and abuse, we can rekindle that movement and we can help you make a difference.”

Rabbi Robin Podolsky, Temple Beth Israel

“Every person has the right to the dignity of rest. Indeed, the Torah says that every worker has the right to be paid a living wage on time for what they do.

“So, I would like to offer this blessing: Holy One, Author of the World, your creations are magnificent. We see your spirit in these amazing workers.

“Thank you for creating people who are so on fire with love an appreciation for dignity and solidarity with one another. Thank you for the opportunity to be in human community with these workers.

“I ask that you lift them up, continue to infuse them with your strength and love and that you bring a victory: a just and fair contract, so they will be paid living wages and have the opportunity to retire with dignity and their health be protected, as you intended the world to be. Amen.”