Workers call for hotel boycotts

3508.jpgSAN FRANCISCO — Their spirited chants could be heard blocks away as workers at the HEI Meridien hotel picketed their workplace April 1, urging a boycott of the facility until the hotel’s management recognizes their right to a union based on majority sign-up.

The action was one in a series of demonstrations at the Meridien since last July, when workers at a number of non-union hotels in California demanded that their respective managements recognize their right to organize when a majority of workers have signed cards for union membership.

Workers at the Hyatt Fisherman’s Wharf hotel held a similar picket late last month. Many workers at both hotels have signed a petition to call on management to agree to a card-check neutrality agreement.

Workers demanding union rights include both those with years of seniority and relative newcomers.

Lobby porter Peter Ho has worked at the hotel for 20 years. He said the majority of workers have signed a boycott petition “because so many things are unfair.”

Though the hotel still has “a full house,” he said, management has been cutting hours to the point where he is working two days a week instead of five, and some departments formerly staffed by three or four workers now function with one. “Now it’s always push-push-push for work.”

Job security, pensions and family health care at a reasonable cost are Ho’s top priorities. “I came to America from Hong Kong,” he said. “I want the American dream, with freedom and my rights.”

Michael Ancheta, who worked at the hotel for 13 months until he was laid off in January, said at first he didn’t know much about the union. But he started going to organizing committee meetings and became convinced he wanted the greater rights, benefits and job security San Francisco’s unionized hotel workers have.

“When I was laid off,” Ancheta said, “they told me it was because of the economy, and because of seniority. But I’m not the lowest in seniority.” Though the economic crisis has had some effect on the hotel, he said, “the work is still there.”

Local 2 says both the Global Hyatt Corporation and HEI Le Meridien are among the world’s fastest-growing hotel companies, despite the economic downturn. Similar efforts are underway at other hotels, including the HEI Hilton in Long Beach and the Hyatt Regency Santa Clara in California, and the Hyatt Regency Indianapolis. Students at Brown, Cornell, Notre Dame, Yale and other universities with investments in HEI are calling on their schools to support the workers’ right to organize.

Union leaders point out that the Employee Free Choice Act, now before Congress, would let workers choose to decide their union status by majority signup or by secret ballot election, and thus would end prolonged stalemates like those at the two San Francisco hotels.

Across the bay, workers at the Concord Holiday Inn are also calling on potential customers to boycott the hotel. There, workers have long been represented by Unite Here Local 2850. But the new owners have been stalling since last May on negotiating a new contract.

Workers picketing the hotel March 25 said the most important issue is management’s insistence on raising family medical coverage from the present $40 per month to $725. “My family depends on our health insurance,” said Maria, whose 15 year old son’s injuries have already necessitated three surgeries with one more to go. “If they take away our insurance it will be impossible,” she added. “If we are working, we deserve insurance. We don’t want to have to go on MediCal and be a burden for this country.”

Brian, a room service and restaurant worker for two years, is concerned that management’s cutbacks in hours, which he says started about the same time as the contract talks last May, are making it impossible for workers to give high-quality customer service. “A lot of people would like to say it’s about the economy, but that’s not part of it,” he said. “We’re getting more business now than at this time last year. But now we’re not able to attend to the customers in the way we’re proud to do.”

Workers in all these struggles have strong support from elected officials and community leaders as well as from other unions. In San Francisco the president and members of the Board of Supervisors have stood with the workers. In Concord, the May 25 picket line was joined by Mayor Laura Hoffmeister, county Supervisor Susan Bonilla and representatives of other state and local elected officials as well as the heads of the Contra Costa Labor Council and Building Trades Councils.

mbechtel @