Ada Briceño, Susan Minato, Kurt Petersen run Unite Here Local 11

From left, Susan Minato, Ada Briceño and Kurt Petersen, photographed at the Los Angeles Times in El Segundo on Nov. 8.

As top executives who share a leadership post, Unite Here Local 11 co-presidents Ada Briceño, Susan Minato and Kurt Petersen aim to present a united front as they steer the politically powerful union representing more than 32,000 hotel workers across Southern California and Arizona.

Last year, they showed their solidarity: in handcuffs.

The three were arrested together — and not for the first time — during a protest in the run-up to the Southern California hotel strike, the largest in U.S. history. The strike, which started in early July, involved more than 15,000 hospitality workers at some 60 properties in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

The trio’s mutual support that day was more than a public pose; it’s a core precept of their unique power-sharing arrangement, believed to be the first of its kind at a U.S. labor union.

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One might assume that three people at the helm would butt heads from time to time. But that’s not the case, the co-presidents said.

“In case of a controversial decision, two could outvote the one, but I can’t think of the last time that actually happened,” Petersen said.

“We have never not had full consensus,” Minato said. “The good thing about the compatibility and the trust is that it really, truly enables you to do more.”

Briceño, 51, Minato, 62, and Petersen, 58, who met in the 1990s as young organizers, divide their responsibilities loosely, in accordance with the situation.

At rallies, all can usually be found among the sea of Unite Here red shirts and trading off at the podium, delivering fiery remarks in English and Spanish — in Petersen’s case, in Spanish with a heavy American accent that staff and members find endearing.

Minato often takes point on organizing food service workers, such as those at Universal Studios or airline catering companies, while Petersen heads up hotels and Briceño largely focuses on Orange County and elected officials. But the designations are informal and so loose as to be nonexistent at times. During the hotel strike, it’s been all hands on deck, they said.

‘The good thing about the compatibility and the trust is that it really, truly enables you to do more.’

— Susan Minato

Unite Here Local 11 has fused labor and political power with significant results.

The more than 10-month-old strike now appears to be nearing its end, with dozens of hotels agreeing to immediate raises of $5 per hour for front desk clerks, dishwashers and housekeepers.

In November, the union won a deal with the Los Angeles City Council for an ordinance aimed at reducing the city’s housing shortage in exchange for dropping a ballot measure that would have required hotels to participate in a city program to put homeless residents in vacant hotel rooms.

In 2022, Unite Here Local 11 persuaded politicians to reduce workloads for Los Angeles hotel employees, and, in 2021, to raise the minimum wage for West Hollywood hotel workers. In 2018, Long Beach voters approved a union-backed measure requiring hotels to provide panic buttons for workers.

The union has had losses too. Unite Here Local 11 gathered enough signatures to force a special election in Anaheim on whether to raise the city’s minimum wage for hotel and event center workers to $25. In October, voters overwhelmingly rejected the measure.

“We’re shocking people. We’re shocking the bosses,” Briceño said, “because the voices of our workers is what’s front and center for us.”

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