Hotel workers seek industry-wide contract

LOS ANGELES — By an overwhelming 83 percent vote, 2,000 hotel workers here voted Sept. 15 to authorize their union to call a strike if needed. The Local 11 UNITE HERE members joined fellow unionists in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., who also voted to authorize the strike by comparable margins.

Besides wages, working conditions, health care, pensions and workloads, winning a common contract expiration date in 2006 is a key issue, said Local 11 President Maria Elena Durazo. “The strike authorization is necessary to give leverage against the hotels which will lock out all union workers if a strike is called on just one hotel,” Durazo added. “The workers are fed up because they work from paycheck to paycheck.”

In an apparent attempt to divide the newly merged unions, UNITE and HERE, the Wilshire Grand Hotel locked out 17 laundry workers, some with up to 30 years on the job, the day after the strike vote. The locked-out workers belong to UNITE Local 52. Local 11 has filed a complaint against the Wilshire Grand Hotel with National Labor Relations Board for locking out the workers. Union activists say the Wilshire Grand is trying to force the local to the bargaining table to accept a five-year contract instead of the new two-year national contract that would give the union the strength it needs to bargain fairly against the mega-billionaire transnational hotel bosses and consortiums.

Workers at two hotels managed by Starwood — the St. Regis and the Westin Century Plaza — do not get their mandatory meal and rest breaks because of “nonstop” work schedules and staff shortages, according to a suit filed by the union.

The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor AFL-CIO has called on working families and community and religious allies to intensify support to hotel workers. The County Fed charges that “the Hotel Council has threatened workers with a potential lockout or strike, terminated a contract extension, suspended union dues deduction, declared impasse with numerous issues on the table, and signed a lockout pact.”

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., 3,500 workers in 14 hotels were standing by, nervous but determined, awaiting the word to walk out. They haven’t just been following the progress of negotiations, they’ve been in them. “We have completely opened up the negotiating process,” UNITE HERE Local 25 Executive Secretary Treasurer John Boardman told the World. Boardman says 1,900 workers have attended at least one bargaining session.

At the huge Omni Shoreham Hotel in D.C., sparks were flying at a union conference of women electrical workers when participants heard how the workloads of the housekeepers, doormen, and wait staff of the hotel in which they were meeting have increased so much that 42 percent report having to work through breaks to get their required work done. The 200 conferees spontaneously collected $1,200 for the sister union’s hardship fund. If the union goes out on strike, the women’s donation will fund medical benefits for two pregnancies the fund has been tracking, Boardman said.

Back at the Omni, which was booked solid, a reporter asked Howell, a doorman who has been attending the bargaining sessions religiously, how the hotel’s 800 beds would get made if the workers walk. Howell shrugged his shoulders, but smiled.

The author can be reached at kelsdrumr@webtv.net. Roberta Wood contributed to this story.