BALTIMORE - The labor movement and its allies are celebrating victory in a six-year battle that restored union bargaining rights for hundreds of employees of Baltimore's Sheraton City Center Hotel.
Unite Here Local 7 and International Union of Operating Engineers (OE) Local 37 held a festive rally near the hotel June 27 to celebrate their contract settlement. Local 7 Vice President Krista - Sthrathmore told the crowd, "This fight began on April 6, 2006. One owner and many managers are gone, but the workers are still here!"
Since late 2007 the unions have conducted a boycott campaign to force hotel management, Columbia Sussex, to bargain in good faith, to no avail. Two years ago the hotel was sold to Interstate Hotels. The new management understood that the boycott, sanctioned by the AFL-CIO, was hurting their bottom line. The workers won improvements in wages and benefits, ratified the contract and lifted the boycott.
Ernie Grecco, president of the Metropolitan Baltimore Council of AFL-CIO unions, congratulated the workers. Their victory "means a lot to Baltimore and the labor movement ... Now people can come here to union hotels, which is very important."
One Sheraton server interviewed by the People's World said he's been at the hotel for 15 years and became active in the union when the boycott was begun because he understood that conditions for the workers weren't going to get better without winning the fight for union protection.
Jack Young, president of the Baltimore City Council, offered his congratulations, saying "Now I can come to the Sheraton again" after the long hard-fought campaign.
Maryland State Senator Verna Jones thanked the workers and Baltimore's unions for "always being in the movement and keeping hope alive."
Gloria Pack, former CWA officer and current staff member for City Councilwoman Helen Holton gave congratulations from Councilwoman Holton.
The labor movement has waged a determined struggle to organize the workers employed at hotels, restaurants, Oriole Park, and the Ravens football stadium in Baltimore's Inner Harbor over many years.
Over strong opposition, the city has pushed forward with hundreds of millions in taxpayer subsidies for expansion of the Baltimore Convention Center and the construction of a new Hilton Hotel. The Hilton is now city-owned with an occupancy rate of 64 percent, enough to pay for all its operating costs but not its construction debt burden.
The labor movement argues that facilities built with taxpayer dollars must uphold workers' union rights or becomes accomplices in the super-exploitation of the workers.
Unite Here is currently locked in a fierce battle to organize the Inner Harbor Hyatt Regency Hotel which has engaged in union-busting tactics and arbitrary firing of employees. Construction of this Hyatt was subsidized by Baltimore taxpayers after the AFL-CIO reached a handshake agreement with Hyatt over union organizing.
The rally participants walked across the street to the hotel for a reception and a rousing victory party inside the hotel. But this time, instead of chants calling "BOYCOTT THE SHERATON," it was "WELCOME BACK!" There was a symbolic ribbon-cutting to a loud cheer, and then everyone entered the hotel, with hotel management lined up to welcome the crowd with smiles, "thank you's" and handshakes. The reception was held in the Liberty Ballroom, where the unions had purchased food prepared and served by the hotel's Banquet Services, union members all. The hotel provided the open bar and excellent live piano-bar music.
Local 7 President Roxie Herbekian welcomed the supporters and brought state federation president Fred Mason, Jr. to the podium. "It is a great day!" Mason declared. "We used to have 1199E union meetings and bargaining sessions in this hotel. We had an AFL-CIO state convention here. Now that the union has a contract again, we can return! This victory shows us when you fight you can win. This is one of the most courageous unions around, and now this will help get labor meetings, events and conventions back into Baltimore. This also shows that a good hotel can be successful with good workers."
The hotel's general manager, Mary Ann White, thanked the "union associates" adding that management is "excited to be off the union boycott list."
Joe Stranahan, president of Operating Engineers Loc. 37, congratulated his members and the Local 7 members for their victory.
Baltimore NAACP President Tessa Hill-Aston said, "The AFL-CIO's boycott list is our boycott list too, so the Sheraton coming off the unions boycott list, they come off our boycott list as well."
Photo: Unite Here Local 7 Facebook page , Bill Hughes