S.F. hotel workers triumph over lockout

SAN FRANCISCO — Some 4,300 hotel workers returned to work triumphantly at 14 of this city’s premier hotels last week, after area health providers’ decisions to extend workers’ medical coverage for December and January pulled the rug from under a weeks-long lockout imposed by the hotels’ management.

Negotiations for a new contract are continuing. The union reported progress on several peripheral issues, with the hotels withdrawing a demand for random drug testing and the union modifying a proposal on vacations.

On Nov. 20, Mayor Gavin Newsom announced that the workers’ union, UNITE HERE Local 2, and the Multi-Employer Group, representing hotel management, had reached agreement on a 60-day cooling-off period. When Newsom first called for the cooling-off period earlier in the fall, the union agreed immediately but the hotels summarily rejected the mayor’s appeal.

In the meantime, however, the state of California determined that the locked-out workers were eligible for unemployment insurance payments. After the employers refused the union’s request to use part of a shared emergency trust fund to pay for health coverage, health care providers including Kaiser Permanente, Chinese Community Health Plan and PacifiCare said they would extend coverage through the end of January.

The union’s call for a boycott was being heeded by a growing number of associations and corporations, who were canceling or moving scheduled meetings, and guests who did check into the hotels had to run the gauntlet of the workers’ lively picket lines.

After the hotels rejected his first call for a cooling-off period, Mayor Newsom, whose 2003 campaign received substantial donations from the hotels, declared he would “do everything in my power to see to it that the city and county of San Francisco does not do business with those hotels,” and briefly joined the workers’ picket lines.

“The lockout ended when the hotels realized that their tactics had turned against them,” Local 2 said in a communication to the workers. Besides the unemployment payments and the extended health coverage, the union credited solidarity with its picket lines in Hawaii and Monterey. “Our fight was spreading to cities all across America and beyond,” Local 2 said. “So the hotel bosses finally figured out that the only business decision that was not a complete disaster for them was to end the lockout.”

The lockout began as the hotels’ response to a two-week warning strike starting in late September, against four of the 14 hotels. Key issues remaining include the contract expiration date, health coverage co-payments, workloads and wages.

The authors can be reached at pww@pww.org.click here for Spanish text