DENVER — It was a surprise when I walked into a labor caucus meeting here to be greeted with such warmth and friendliness by the Hyatt Regency banquet staff. A young 30-something woman with a chopstick-like pin spearing her hair up in a bun came up to me and explained the menu and the serving schedule. The staff had to time the salad, main entrée and coffee/tea service with the beginning and ending of a speaking program that had its own time glitches. Needless to say, this can be a challenge to banquet workers.
But this waitress liked my T-shirt, which continued our friendly conversation. I was wearing the red shirt of the AFL-CIO’s community affiliate “Working America,” which says on the back, “One in a million.”
Then a younger, 20-something hotel staffer, about 6 ft 2 inches tall with reddish blond hair, came by and picked up the conversation about unions. He was wearing a red and white union button on his banquet uniform. With shoulders back and chest proudly thrust forward he told me the Hyatt Regency is the first (and only) union-organized hotel in Denver in years.
We organized about a year and a half ago, he said. There were other unionized hotels in Denver but they were decertified over the years when a change in ownership came, he told me.
Turns out this young man, Barney Beck, was part of the Unite Here negotiating committee and is acting as union steward until the union local’s first elections.
“The bargaining unit includes restaurant, banquet, kitchen and housekeeping staff,” he said. Front desk and security are not part of the local. “We have 330 members. And really we are the only unionized hotel in the Rocky Mountain area.”
He then told me the union has really helped the workers’ working conditions, especially in housekeeping where injuries are abundant. With their jobs requiring lifting heavy mattresses and lots of straining to do above-the-head cleaning, the mainly women staff work in an industry that ranks high on the job injury list.
“Instead of cleaning 30 rooms per day we got the contract down to 18 rooms per day. And by the end of the contract it will be 16 rooms per day, which is below the Denver standard of 18,” he said.
Except for New Mexico to the south, Colorado is surrounded by “right-to-work (for less)” states. That means states pass laws prohibiting (or making very difficult) union organizing. Anti-union ballot measures are on the Colorado ballot this year, including passing a right-to-work law for the state. Wages and working conditions are generally worse in “right-to-work” states than in other states where the government doesn’t intrude so boldly on the side of employers and big corporations. Colorado’s labor movement and allies are mounting a vigorous campaign to block these ballot measures.
Unite Here General President Bruce Raynor told a 2,000-strong labor delegate rally here of the breakthrough contract. He said the Hyatt Regency was organized through “card check,” meaning if a majority of employees sign a union card the company recognizes the union. This way of organizing would be enshrined in federal law if and when the Employee Free Choice Act is passed. Most unions are forced to go through difficult National Labor Relations Board-supervised elections, which favor corporations and other employers. With the employer-friendly NLRB process, management can hold anti-union “captive” sessions with their workers to lobby them mercilessly before the election. With card check, the employer is not part of the process and not able to directly interfere in this way with a worker’s right to choose a union or not.
Raynor noted that the new contract gives the workers the right to keep their tips. “So tip them heavily,” he told the delegates and guests.
talbano @ pww.org