Hotel workers check out in SF

San Francisco hotel workers walked out Sept. 29 as part of a three-city struggle to force giant hotel chains to agree to a common contract expiration date. The union has announced the 1,200-member strike will last two weeks and cover four of the city’s major hotels — the Argent, Hilton San Francisco, Crowne Plaza Union Square and Mark Hopkins Inter-Continental.

In Washington, D.C., 3,500 workers and 2,800 in Los Angeles stood ready to join the walkout if called. Management is demanding reduced health benefits and pensions and increased workloads, and is holding out for separate contract expiration dates for each city.

Dignity and respect have emerged as focal points for the D.C. hotel workers, according to John Boardman, executive secretary-treasurer of UNITE HERE Local 25 there. Organized discussions among the membership revealed abusive managers and crushing workloads, Boardman told the World. Seventy-three percent of employees reported having to work through their breaks to complete their quotas; 79 percent have found “mistakes” in their paychecks.

The union is demanding dozens of significant contract language changes to impose effective remedies when management mistreats the workers, Boardman said. Union proposals address increasing the number of shop floor representatives the union has, union access to the workplace, making the grievance process faster, and penalties for management when workers’ paychecks are wrong.

The strike and coordinated contract struggle follow a long-range plan by the newly merged union to “create power” by systematically increasing union density in the entire industry. Demands for card-check recognition in newly acquired hotels are part of the union agenda.

“Most of us are people of color and immigrants,” said Donald Wilson, a cook at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles. “Maybe we work in the back of the house, but we deserve respect. To get it, we have to be equal with the hotel companies at the bargaining table. Otherwise, they divide us city by city.”

The 60 stewards who make up the LA bargaining committee represent a workforce that is 85 percent Latino immigrants. The committee has proposed a union-management “diversity committee” to increase outreach for hiring in the African American community. African Americans, historically a major part of the hotel industry, have been replaced by immigrant workers who management feels will be easier to “keep under their boot,” a union spokesperson explained. Management responded, “Not interested,” to the diversity proposal.

If the union achieves its goal of a common expiration date in 2006, 55,000 hotel workers in 10 cities will be able to leverage their combined power in negotiations with hotel giants that year.

The author can be reached at rwood@pww.org.