Amma, “Hugging Saint” Of India, Leaves Boycotted Hotel After Two Years of Appeals

For Immediate Release
June 17, 2009
Contact: Nadia Afghani
Mobile: 714-612-6390
Office: 213-977-9400 ext. 122

Amma Moves Her Event from the LAX Hilton

After two years of appeals by community leaders and hotel workers, Amma, the spiritual leader known as the “hugging saint of India,” moved her annual Los Angeles event from the boycotted LAX Hilton to the nearby Radisson Hotel, which recently signed a union contract that guarantees substantial wage increases and benefits, including free family health insurance to workers. The LAX Hilton, which is at the center of a major labor dispute in Southern California, still remains under boycott. Amma is in Los Angeles as part of a ten-city U.S. tour and will spend five days at the Radisson Hotel near LAX.

The LAX Hilton has drawn much attention for its longstanding battle with workers and community leaders. The hotel has aggressively fought efforts by its employees to gain the right to a fair process to decide whether to have union representation, has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to oppose the living wage law for 3,500 hotel workers near LAX and was found guilty by the National Labor Relations Board of numerous labor law violations, including interrogating and retaliating against workers, and threatening violence against one. LAX Hilton is appealing the ruling.

For the last two years, Amma declined to move her five-day event from the Hilton LAX despite numerous appeals to Amma and her event coordinators. Amma’s refusal to honor the boycott attracted much controversy and raised questions about her public message of compassion and service to the poor. In 2007, Rabbi Michael Lerner, the editor of Tikkun Magazine, announced that he would not accept an award from Amma because of her refusal to honor the LAX Hilton boycott. “Amma, there is no possibility of creating a more loving and caring world that I know you are so committed to so long as spiritual leaders like yourself fail to link spiritual ideals to concrete social justice for poor and working people,” said Lerner in a letter sent to Amma.

For decades Amma has traveled the world, attracting large crowds who stand in line for hours to receive her embrace. In the last 30 years, Amma has reportedly hugged more than 30 million people, emphasizing the ideals of love and service.

“Amma has said, ‘Compassion to the poor and the needy is our duty to God.’ We are glad that Amma practices what she preaches by refusing to patronize a business that is treating its workers without compassion and contributing to poverty through low wages and lack of affordable health insurance,” said Reverend William D. Smart of the Coalition for a New Century.

LAX Hilton workers endure poverty wages, unaffordable health insurance and unsafe working conditions. They are requesting a fair process to determine whether to have a union.

For the past three and a half years, a coalition of community, civic and faith leaders has engaged in an effort to address conditions for LAX hotel workers and nearby communities. The Coalition for a New Century, which includes prominent religious, education and civic leaders, is seeking to improve conditions for thousands of hotel workers on Century Boulevard, city investment in the long-neglected LAX tourism industry and a central role for adjacent communities affected by problems of poverty, crime and overcrowding.