by Morton D. Rosenbaum | September 01, 2005

Unite HERE members outside the Fairmont San Francisco

Unite HERE members
outside the Fairmont
San Francisco

After more than a year of worker actions, San Francisco’s hotel employee union Unite HERE Local 2 still is battling the Multi-Employer Group, made up of 14 of the city’s convention hotels. Convention and visitor bureau staffers have begun pointing fingers at the union, accusing leadership of sacrificing its members’ best interests.     “As a bureau, we try to remain apolitical,” said Mark Theis, vice president of conventions for the San Francisco CVB. “But Unite HERE’s tactics have affected our business, and this whole ordeal clearly leaves a bruise on our destination’s reputation.”
    Since its contract expired in late 2004, Local 2 has been boycotting the MEG properties in a push for one of two demands: card-check neutrality, which would allow workers to form unions at nonunion properties, or a 2006 expiration date on the contract, to align the city with Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and Toronto when contracts come up for renegotiation next year.
    Although Local 2 has not struck since last October, its boycotts have proven increasingly effective. San Francisco could lose an estimated
$48 million in hotel revenue from relocated conventions.
    At press time, the Washington, D.C.-based American Federation of Teachers was contemplating moving its July 2006 convention. “We told them we’d move if the union didn’t get a new contract by Aug. 1,” said Sally Muravchik, director of conventions and meetings for the AFT, “and then [Local 2 president] Mike Casey asked us to hold off just a little bit longer. But we can’t wait for long.”
    Other groups have reported hostile phone calls from Local 2 representatives demanding their meetings be moved to properties that are not being boycotted. “I’m being harassed,” said Sandy Requa, an executive assistant of the New York City-based Audio Engineering Society.
    CVB president and CEO John Marks is fed up with the tactics: “I’m getting sick and tired of having to make apologies to our valued clients.”
    Those suffering the greatest losses during the union’s boycotts could be its members. Marks calculates the lost business could cost workers close to $900,000 in tips.
    Union president Casey says his members are willing to weather short-term hardship for the long-term benefits. “You can’t take on global corporations like the Starwoods and the Hiltons with regional strategies,” he said. “For the first time ever, our union is saying, ‘You are not going
to pick us off one by one.’ And our members get that.”