by Sarah J.F. Braley | April 01, 2005

MPIColin Rorrie of MPI led a joint rebuke of Unite Here.

In February, a joint statement was issued by the American Society of Association Executives, Meeting Professionals International and the Professional Convention Management Association condemning tactics used by Unite Here, the hotel workers’ union. 
    The associations are concerned that the union, which is in contract negotiations with several hotels in both Los Angeles and San Francisco, is calling their meeting planner members and asking them to honor the union’s boycott of the properties.
    “The labor process is the vehicle for this to be solved, not intimidation tactics,” said Colin Rorrie, Ph.D., CAE, president and CEO of Dallas-based MPI.
    The idea for the joint statement came from several hoteliers who sit on MPI’s Chairman’s Advisory Board, which has only supplier members. The board met during the association’s Professional Education Congress in San Diego in January. Among those in attendance were David Scypinski, senior vice president of industry relations for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide; Fred Shea, vice president of sales for Hyatt Hotels Corp.; and Mike Beardsley, senior vice president of global sales for Marriott International.
    The action of the unions “really galvanized us,” said Scypinski. “We have no problems with them saying, ‘Here’s what’s happening’ in a nonbiased way. But they’re not telling our side of the story.”
    Scypinski said he and his colleagues worry the union will succeed in getting contracts in many major cities synched onto one schedule. “This is the first time they’ve been thinking so strategically,” he noted, “but we’re not going to let them do it if we can [prevent it].” Scypinski added if the union ever gained the power to declare a national strike, both the hotel and meetings industries would be in serious trouble.
    In San Francisco, Unite Here’s Local 2 has been without a contract since last summer, and many workers were locked out of 14 hotels (including the Four Seasons, the Hyatt Regency and the Sheraton Palace Hotel) last October and November, after which the union called for a boycott of those properties. Meanwhile, Local 11 in Los Angeles has been without a contract since June 2004.
    The union makes no apologies for its yearlong practice of sending planners newsletters with updates on contracts around the country. Unite Here has used MPI’s mailing list but now is making phone calls as well.
     “Our first newsletter was approved by MPI before it went out,” said Jason Ortiz, research analyst and point person for planner interaction for the New York City-based union. “Our outreach has been an in-kind response to hundreds of inquiries we’ve had from planners trying to learn our take on the situation in San Francisco and L.A.”
    Support for the unions is coming from various quarters, including former president Bill Clinton, who in March honored the boycott in Los Angeles by refusing to attend a lunch at the Century Plaza hotel.
    Some groups also have decided not to cross picket lines, including the Organization of American Historians, which moved its March convention from San Francisco to San Jose, Calif., and the National Council of Teachers of English, which moved events from the San Francisco Hilton to the city’s Moscone Center.
    As for the negotiations, “it’s been slow going,” said a spokesperson for Unite Here’s Local 2. “There’s still quite a distance between the two sides.”