Sameer M. Ashar, Fernando Flores, and Sara Feldman, Advancing Low-Wage Worker Organizing Through Legal Representation, 47 Clearinghouse Rev. J. Poverty L. & Pol'y 313 (2013).
Eighteen workers at the Hilton Long Beach Hotel and Executive Meeting Center settled denial of meal and rest break claims with the hotel’s owner, HEI Hotels and Resorts LLC (HEI), on November 27, 2012 — the culmination of a multiyear campaign led by the workers and supported by Unite Here Local 11, the Southern California affiliate of the North American hospitality workers union. The workers were represented in the last stages of the agency adjudication by the Immigrant Rights Clinic of the University of California (Irvine) School of Law and the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center. In hearings before the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, the workers described facing direct pressure from supervisors to work through meals and to skip rest breaks to keep up with increasingly heavy workloads. Some employees suffered injuries due to the unremitting nature of their work.
In this advocacy story we describe the conditions faced by workers at the Hilton Long Beach, the legal and institutional framework in which claims were brought, and the basic contours of the legal action on behalf of the workers. We then identify three major sets of issues that workers, organizers, and lawyers may need to consider before embarking on a legal campaign like ours: (1) the scarcity of available legal resources for the kinds of "gateway" claims made in this legal campaign; (2) the strength of the agency process; and (3) the strength of organizing among the workers. We conclude that workers may achieve a degree of solidarity and a modestly successful litigation outcome even through an imperfect adjudication process. In this case, lawyers and agency personnel creatively modified the legal process to meet the needs of low-wage workers. For cases involving groups of workers, the flexibility of process may be a more significant factor in an advocate’s choice of forum than is commonly understood.