Federal lawmakers urge Labor Department to investigate L.A. hotels’ treatment of migrant workers

A group of federal lawmakers is urging the U.S. Department of Labor and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to investigate some prominent Los Angeles hotels and their contracted staffing agencies for possible labor violations in their treatment of migrant workers.

Local hotels — or staffing agencies operating on their behalf — may have engaged in “potentially predatory behavior” toward unhoused refugees from Venezuela and Colombia hired to work at their properties, House Democrats said in a letter sent on Monday to the federal agencies. The letter named hotels including Le Meridien Delfina Santa Monica, the Four Points by Sheraton, the Holiday Inn LAX, and the Pasadena Hilton.

The letter cites reporting by The Times on recent migrants living in a Skid Row shelter recruited to work at unionized hotels in Santa Monica and near Los Angeles International Airport where employees had gone on strike. Some hired appeared to be among hundreds of migrants shipped on buses to L.A. this year by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Migrant workers hired as temporary replacements said they were assigned heavy cleaning loads and long hours; some were not told how much they would be paid or given breaks.

“The reported exploitation of vulnerable migrant workers to undermine hotel workers’ efforts to win livable wages and other improvements in labor standards is deeply troubling,” lawmakers said in the letter.

Among the 27 congressional members who signed are House Democrats from L.A. and Orange counties, as well as others representing California districts. They include Robert Garcia (D-Long Beach), Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles), Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-Los Angeles), Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), Katie Porter (D-Irvine), Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), Ro Khanna (D-Fremont) and Barbara Lee (D-Oakland). Two Arizona representatives also signed.

The letter, addressed to Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su, administrator Jessica Looman of the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division, and Deanne Criswell, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, requests that the two agencies look into potential violations of federal labor law, including the Fair Labor Standards Act, or other statutes that seek to protect recent migrants and refugees from exploitation.

The letter also asks the Department of Labor and FEMA to help “vulnerable newcomers who may have been exploited during the ongoing labor dispute” to secure better housing and employment.

In the Oct. 23 Times report highlighted in the letter, 11 people living at Union Rescue Mission on Skid Row confirmed they had been hired at hotels where employees were protesting outside. Many did not provide their names, fearing repercussions from immigration authorities.

One migrant worker interviewed was a minor who had skipped school to work at the Holiday Inn LAX. Aimbridge Hospitality, which operates the hotel, at the time did not respond to questions about whether staffing agencies it used had secured appropriate permits to employ minors.

The agency that paid the minor and his mother was Arya Staffing Services, which also appears to operate under the name AV Professional Services. Alinne Espinoza, who is listed as the registered agent for the staffing agency, had said, when approached for comment, that her business is properly licensed and operates legally.

Payments made to the migrant workers by the staffing agency that The Times reviewed did not appear to make payroll deductions required by companies to pay taxes and other contributions.

The office of Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón announced in October that it would launch an investigation into working conditions for migrants hired at hotels — including potential wage theft and violations of child labor law — based on information brought to him by Unite Here Local 11, the union representing hotel employees, and Times reporting.

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