BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - A co-leader of a union representing striking hotel workers said Wednesday that a Beverly Hills lawsuit alleging citizen complaints of noise from early-morning protests outside two hotels infringes on the picketers' free-speech rights.
The Los Angeles Superior Court public nuisance complaint was filed Tuesday against Unite Here! Local 11. The city seeks a court order directing demonstrators to limit their protests to the hours of 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. The suit maintains the protesters are using drums and bullhorns and have started as early as 5:30 a.m. outside the Beverly Hilton and Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills.
But union Co-President Kurt Petersen issued a statement Wednesday stating that the suit is violative of the protesters' free speech.
"It is beyond outrageous that the city of Beverly Hills is using its resources to stifle the First Amendment-protected protest activity of low-wage, immigrant workers," the statement read. "These are workers who make its luxury hotels run and who are simply seeking a living wage. The city should be helping to lift them up, not attack them with baseless lawsuits."
But according to the city, nearby residents report whistles being blown in addition to shouting and screaming from the area of Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards. When Beverly Hills police investigated, the protesters refused to identify themselves except for union representatives, including Lorena Lopez, the suit states.
On July 24, City Manager Nancy Hunt-Coffey spoke with another union leader named Sol and told her the drums were disturbing residents across the street, including children of some families who were home for the summer, the suit states.
When Hunt-Coffey asked Sol to delay demonstrations until 8 a.m. and to cease the drum beating, Sol replied, "Yeah, yeah, yeah," which the city manager thought meant that Sol agreed to comply, the suit states.
Two days later, Capt. Giovanni Trejo of the Beverly Hills Police Department went to the area and spoke with Lopez, requesting her to cease the protest noise before 8 a.m., the suit states.
"She indicated she would consider the request, but did not commit to complying," according to the complaint.
That same day, police responded to complaints from Beverly Hilton staff and security of aggressive confrontations, bullhorns blown in ears, blocked traffic and up-close screaming, the suit states. The next day, protesters allegedly broke through a barrier and injured a security guard.
The demonstrations have continued with individuals still arriving as early as 5:30 a.m. and continuing to use drums and bullhorns, according to the suit.