Hotel, casino workers battle on two coasts

Undaunted by the challenge of four high-stakes contract struggles on two coasts, the union representing hotel and casino workers has revved up its solidarity machine.

“We’re fighting the fight we have to fight,” union spokesperson Amanda Cooper told the World. “We’ll see it through till we win.”

Up against some of the same multinational giants, UNITE HERE members in Atlantic City, N.J., San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., have similar long-term goals. In Atlantic City, Local 54 is seeking a three-year contract. They want a 2007 expiration date to coincide with the contracts of their 65,000 Las Vegas and Detroit counterparts in the gaming industry.

Similarly, hotel workers in D.C., L.A. and San Francisco are seeking two-year contracts that will come up for renegotiation at the same time as those of their fellow hospitality industry workers in the major hotel/convention cities of New York, Chicago, Boston, Toronto and Honolulu.

“If we set our next contract to expire in 2006, then we will be bargaining in the same year as 50,000 other hotel workers across North America who work for the same corporations we do,” said the Sept. 9 issue of Local 25’s publication, Hotel Worker News.

The newsletter cited Hyatt, Marriott, Hilton and Starwood as big hotel companies that operate on a national level but insist on bargaining with the union in isolated units.

Due to different market conditions in each city, the union is not seeking nationwide master agreements in the hospitality and gaming industries. But it is looking to a future when a common contract expiration will vastly increase the workers’ bargaining power.

In Atlantic City, where 10,000 casino workers are on strike, 80 were arrested in civil disobedience actions while 3,000 marched last week. This week the union is upping the ante, vowing to flood the city’s boardwalk with up to 10,000 supporters from up and down the Eastern seaboard.

In San Francisco, employers locked out nearly 4,000 workers in 10 establishments after the union called a limited 14-day walkout at four hotels. But the workers haven’t backed off.

“We want to fix the huge workload problems that management has caused us,” room cleaner Amy Wan from the San Francisco Hilton explained. “Hilton is a huge corporation. It makes lots of money.”

In Los Angeles, employers have refused to even sit down at the bargaining table, but labor and community allies are weighing in.

A delegation of Hollywood union leaders representing actors, musicians, television and radio artists and broadcast and stage employees was rebuffed as they sought to meet with management of the luxury Regent Beverly Wilshire. The group urged the public to avoid eating, meeting or sleeping at the nine hotels represented by the Employers Council, which has unilaterally — and illegally — forced workers to pay a new $40 monthly fee for health care.

In both L.A. and D.C., workers are still on the job, but backed by 90 percent-plus strike authorization votes, the mass negotiating committees, which include hundreds of rank and filers, continue to press the workers’ demands. Wages, pensions, health care and backbreaking workloads are key issues for the predominantly immigrant work force.