Hotel workers pick up the pace in Los Angeles and San Francisco

Leaders from UNITE HERE Local 11 and officials from the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor announced Nov. 12 a boycott of nine upscale hotels, members of the Los Angeles Hotel Employers’ Council. The hotels include the Biltmore, Hyatt Regency, Beverly Wilshire, Westin Bonaventure, Wilshire Grand, St. Regis, Sheraton Universal, Hyatt West Hollywood and Century Plaza.

A Nov. 11 community meeting at the UNITE union hall brought together community and union leaders to help plan strategy for the fight-back.

“We need to have labor solidarity across the city,” said Jubilee Shine, one of the meeting organizers from Roofers Local 36. “Wherever there is a labor dispute we need a rapid response in numbers from the community,” he added.

In an e-mail message to meeting organizers, state Sen. Sheila Kuehl emphasized that “it is public policy of the state of California not to patronize businesses where there is a labor dispute.” She said she is looking for alternate sites for state meetings that had been scheduled at the boycotted hotels.

Joe Hancock from the L.A. Workers Center said, “We need to fight for a national health care plan for all workers,” while Ricardo Zelada, also from the center, said he would take the issue back to his church.

A representative from the First A.M.E. Church promised to “bring the matter of the boycott to be endorsed by the Social Concerns Committee of the church.”

On Nov. 12, some 200 workers and supporters rallied in front of the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, and another protest was set for Nov. 18 in front of the Wilshire Grand Hotel.

On the same day, Miguel Contreras, head of the L.A. County Federation of Labor, announced, “We are going to ask all of our unions, all of our allies in the political field, to stay out of these hotels. Do not attend any banquets or functions there.” He added, “We are very serious about this fight.”

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, management at 14 major downtown hotels escalated their war on locked-out workers by blocking a union proposal to extend health coverage beyond the present Dec. 1 cutoff.

UNITE HERE Local 2 had proposed using $4.4 million — part of the surplus in a joint union-hotel trust fund — to extend coverage to the 4,000 locked out workers for an additional two months. The emergency trust fund, which is available to both sides, now totals some $22 million.

At a Nov. 11 news conference, Local 2 President Mike Casey called the hotels’ decision to end the health benefits “unconscionable,” and “perhaps the cruelest turn.” Workers affected by the cutoff, including a hotel doorman whose 13-year-old son suffers a chronic brain disease, testified about the severe hardships they face as a result.

In a surprise move which delighted the union and the workers, health care giant Kaiser Permanente then stepped in Nov. 16 to announce that it will continue coverage for some 3,500 workers enrolled in its plan for the two month period. Casey said Kaiser’s action was largely due to the work of SEIU Local 250 President Sal Rosselli, whose union represents a large part of northern California Kaiser workers.

Spirited picket lines continued at the 14 hotels, including one at the Sheraton Palace Nov. 13, where elaborately dressed patrons arriving for an event benefiting the Philharmonia Baroque orchestra were greeted with fliers telling them to “Take your cue from the orchestra — the organization for which you are raising money refused to cross our picket line.”

On Nov. 16, a delegation organized by Local 2 visited Bank of America and the Japanese Travel Bureau, calling on them to join in signing a pledge to boycott the 14 hotels.

The union plans to continue the delegation visits on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The authors can be reached at pww@pww.org.