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Rep. Porter, Unite Here Local 11 Demand Oversight of $63 Million in Taxpayer Dollars Going to Hotel Conglomerate

Congresswoman and Southern California-based labor union call for full audit of government loans to hotel chain that apparently laid off thousands of workers

U.S. Congresswoman Katie Porter (CA-45) and Unite Here Local 11, a union comprising more than 32,000 service workers in Southern California and Arizona, today called for critical oversight of millions of forgivable loans given to Columbia Sussex through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). In a letter to Small Business Administrator Jovita Carranza, the Congresswoman and Unite Here Local 11 demanded a full audit of 17 loans to the hotel conglomerate, which appears to have laid off thousands of workers despite receiving up to $63 million in taxpayer-funded relief.  

“Congress passed the Paycheck Protection Program to help small businesses keep workers on payroll,” Congresswoman Porter said. “Columbia Sussex received millions of taxpayer dollars, yet they continued to lay off workers in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis. We need a full audit to see whether this taxpayer-funded program is actually helping the American people—not big corporations.”

Columbia Sussex owns or operates at least 50 hotels in 22 states, including California. Since the Paycheck Protection Program was launched in April, 17 different Columbia Sussex entities registered at the same Kentucky address were approved for forgivable loans worth up to $63 million. In its applications, Columbia Sussex claimed PPP loans would allow them to retain nearly 4,000 employees. Yet, as recently as July, Columbia Sussex properties in California were operating at roughly 10% staffing, and several employees reported that their employer-sponsored health coverage had been revoked. Two-thirds of hotel workers are out of work nationwide. 

"Even though Columbia Sussex got tens of millions of dollars in loans from the government, my employer-provided health insurance got canceled and I don’t know why,” said Aurelia Gonzalez, a Unite Here Local 11 member who has worked as a housekeeper at JW Marriott Le Merigot Santa Monica for nearly two decades. “I have received a $1,243 medical bill and am expecting even more bills. I'm scared because now I can't afford to go to the doctor during the pandemic."

In their letter to SBA Administrator Carranza, Porter and Unite Here Local 11 wrote, “Given the known extent of layoffs at Columbia Sussex hotels in our communities, we are concerned that the company may be using taxpayer funds to defray financial losses, rather than to help keep employees tied to their jobs and benefits. This would violate the spirit, and potentially the letter of the law, and we request a full audit of PPP loans to Columbia Sussex and its affiliates.” 

The full text of the letter can be read HERE.