On Sept. 14, after months of negotiations,
hotel workers in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.,
voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike.
The action was called for by New York City-based Unite Here,
formed by the June merger of UNITE, the Union of Needletrades,
Textiles and Industrial Employees, and HERE, the Hotel Employees
and Restaurant Employees International Union.
On Sept. 15, the union staged a press conference in Washington,
D.C., that included fiery support from Kweisi Mfume, president and
CEO of the Baltimore-based NAACP. “If we have to come out and walk
the picket lines, week after week, we will. And we will win this
battle,” Mfume said.
With 880,000 members, Unite Here is taking its cause directly
to where the threat of a hotel strike will resonate the loudest:
the meeting planner.
Last month, the union, which earlier this year purchased
Dallas-based Meeting Professional International’s e-mail list,
advised MPI’s planner members it was offering a new online
resource, Hotel Labor Advisor, a twice-weekly newsletter designed
to keep planners abreast of labor relations issues.
Not only does the newsletter provide details on upcoming
employee-contract expiration in various cities and the status of
the union’s negotiations, it also offers advice and sample force
majeure language to include in contracts with hotels.
“What we heard from planners is that hotels aren’t giving them
this hard information. So we decided to reach out to them,” said
Jason Ortiz, a Miami-based research analyst for Unite Here. “At the
end of the day, meetings are the bread-and-butter business for
hotels, so it makes sense to tailor our outreach approach to
In August and September, contracts for union members in hotel
housekeeping and food service divisions expired in Los Angeles, San
Francisco and Washington, D.C. In San Francisco alone, where 4,000
of the affected workers are employed by 14 of the city’s major
meeting properties, labor issues have become extremely contentious.
On Labor Day, thousands of protesters marched through Union Square;
several were arrested for blocking traffic and disturbing the
At the heart of the dispute, in which employees are seeking
better hourly pay, pension benefits and work guidelines, is the
length of the new con-
Hotel Labor Strife tract. Unite Here is demanding a two-year deal,
rather than the five-year agreements offered by the hotels, which
would give the union significantly more bargaining clout in 2006,
when citywide contracts are set to expire in 28 cities, including
Chicago, Hawaii and New York City.
While Mark Huntley, president of the San Francisco
Multi-Employer Group, the negotiating agency for that city’s
hotels, refused to comment on the ongoing negotiations, he did
dispute Unite Here’s claim that hotels fail to advise meeting
planners of labor issues affecting them.
“Meetings and conventions are an extremely important part of
our business,” said Huntley. “It is standard practice among hotel
members to reach out and communicate with anyone doing business
with us and who would be affected by anything going on in our
The labor issue will continue to loom large for the hotel
industry. Unite Here has picked up powerful allies such as the
NAACP and the Washington, D.C.-based National Council of La Raza,
the largest Latino civil rights organization in the United
Then there’s financial clout. “We are a union with its own $4
billion bank and the financial means to stand up to these hotel
organizations,” said Unite Here president Bruce Raynor, speaking at
the Sept. 15 press conference.