Labor issues are making headlines in several major convention cities, as unionized hotel employees currently are working without contracts in Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Already, demonstrators have taken to the streets in Boston, Chicago and San Francisco, among other cities, and on Oct. 22, 92 percent of union members in the City by the Bay voted to authorize a strike.
And this is just the beginning. According to the national offices of Unite Here, the union representing hotel workers, in early 2010 contracts will expire in Honolulu; Minneapolis; Monterey, Calif.; Toronto; Vancouver; and Washington, D.C.
The tug of war is beginning to resemble 2005-'06, when contracts were being negotiated in cities such as Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Toronto and Washington, D.C.
What will the atmosphere be this time around, with so many agreements being negotiated at the same time?
"It's probably not going to be so crazy," predicted Dave Scypinski, senior vice president of ConferenceDirect, who was a top executive for Hilton and then Starwood before joining the third-party company. "Employees are going to be much less enamored with the thought of going out on strike. It would almost play into the hands of the hoteliers. If people go out on strike, the hotels might well say, ‘Go ahead, and don't come back.'"
Nevertheless, lodging expert Bjorn Hanson of New York University's Tisch Center for Hospitality expects negotiations to be fierce. "Organizing and negotiating activities will be as assertive as ever," he said. "The focus may be more on job security, separation packages, work rules, prior practices, union organizing activities and other issues that are not directly related to compensation, but compensation will still be a central issue."
The sticking point that has arisen most often so far is health care. Since contracts expired in Chicago on Aug. 31, negotiations have begun, but a spokesperson for Unite Here Local 1 said, "We've actually gone backward. For example, the current proposal put forth by Hyatt would gut workers' health insurance."
In a statement regarding talks in Chicago, officials at Hyatt Hotels Corp. said, "The hotels have come to every discussion in good faith and will continue to do so. Like so many other employers, we must manage rising health-care costs while continuing to provide the competitive benefits that attract great people."