Bay Area hotel workers plan holiday actions

SAN FRANCISCO — If your holiday plans include a stay at one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s prime hotels, chances are good that the people making up your room, cooking and serving you in the restaurants or keeping things shipshape behind the scenes may be among the thousands of area hotel workers locked in long contract battles highlighting health care and workers’ rights. Unite Here union locals on both sides of the bay are planning vigils during the prime shopping season.

Union members and supporters will be holding holiday vigils on Thursday, Dec. 15, at two locations: In Oakland, they will meet at 4 p.m. on Broadway between 10th and 11th streets, near the Marriott Hotel, and in San Francisco, they will meet at 4:15 on Market Street between 3rd and 4th streets.

Over 4,000 San Francisco hotel workers represented by Unite Here Local 2 have now been without a contract for 16 months. Local 2 spokesperson Valerie Lapin said negotiations continue with the Multi-Employer Group representing 14 top hotels, but a big gulf remains between the two sides.

A key issue is the union’s insistence on a 2006 contract expiration date, reflecting consolidation of hotel ownership by a few transnational corporations. A common expiration date would let San Francisco hotel workers collaborate with workers in other major cities negotiating with the same employers.

Also on the table are health care, immigrant rights, the African American community’s access to quality jobs, and rising workloads.

The union lifted its boycott of the Westin St. Francis when its owners said publicly they would accept a 2006 expiration date. But the boycott of the other 13 hotels continues, though several have reportedly said privately they, too, would accept a 2006 expiration.

A flagship struggle in the East Bay is the long contest at Berkeley’s Claremont Resort and Spa, where since 2002, some 250 food and beverage workers have been without a contract and over 100 spa workers have been demanding the right to organize.

Unite Here Local 2850 Vice President Wei Ling Huber said the local is “very happy” with a recent change of management firms. But, she added, it has been the union’s experience that even the new firm “won’t move from the goodness of their hearts unless we continue actions and the boycott.”

The local’s other hotel contracts all expired this year, Huber said. Workers at the Holiday Inn Emeryville and the Hilton gained yearly raises, affordable health care and improved pensions, setting a standard for the others.

The Marriott’s contract was up in May. Huber said the Dec. 15 action there will highlight housekeeping workloads which have risen dramatically across the country in recent years as hotels have increasingly competed to offer guests new amenities.

Local 2850 workers recently voted to raise their dues by $5 per month, to create a strike fund, Huber said. “We’ve managed to settle contracts for a decade without a strike, she said, “but looking at San Francisco, we don’t think it’s going to be easy in the future.”