WASHINGTON (PAI) — Using the presidential inauguration as leverage, workers at Washington, D.C.’s top hotels reached a new three-year contract with major downtown chain-owned hotels. Local 25 set its strike deadline after learning the hotels planned to overwork the employees through George W. Bush’s inauguration — and then lock them out. The strike threat forestalled that scheme.

The pact between Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 25 and the hotels keeps fully company-paid health insurance for all workers and their families, saving each worker $7,500 in premium payments yearly, Local 25 Executive Secretary-Treasurer John Boardman told Press Associates Union News Service.

The contract gives the 3,500 workers at 14 downtown hotels a host of other benefits, he said. They include a boost in pension benefits, advance management notification of immigration service raids, quicker arbitration, a ban on supervisors’ interrupting workers’ lunch half-hours with demands for more work, and a ban on penalizing workers who are unable to do their jobs — such as change bed sheets — due to lack of materials.

“There are also monetary penalties for employers who are caught mis-paying someone,” Boardman said.

The pact expires in 2007, not 2006, as the union originally demanded. UNITE HERE, wanted contracts in three major convention/hotel cities — Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco — to expire simultaneously with pacts in two other major hotel cities, New York and Chicago, all in 2006. That would have given the union large leverage in future talks with the three big U.S. hotel chains.

Nevertheless, Boardman counted the struggle’s outcome a win for the union. “None of these things happen in a vacuum, so the national effort was a complete success,” Boardman told PAI. “It increased our power because we talked to each other and kept each other going forward,” he said of the HERE locals in D.C., L.A., and San Francisco. “The national campaign accomplished its goal to build our strength for members throughout the country,” Amanda Cooper, national spokesperson for UNITE HERE added.