by Tom Isler | November 01, 2006

The specter of a major hotel worker strike has all but vanished in some of the country’s largest cities, including San Francisco, where 9,000 hotel employees had been working without contracts since 2004.

Having struck multiyear deals this year with local UNITE HERE unions, hotels in Chicago; Hawaii; Los Angeles; Monterey, Calif.; New York, and Toronto collectively have set the tone for what promises to be a new era of labor peace at some of the biggest properties in major meetings destinations.

While John Wilhelm, president, hospitality industry, for UNITE HERE, is pleased with the agreements, “there are still a lot of contracts left to be negotiated,” he noted.

At press time, negotiations remained for 18 hotels in Los Angeles and 17 in Boston, where many of the employee contracts expire on Nov. 30. But given that hotel chains such as Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott and Starwood already have reached multiple compromises in other cities, disruptive labor actions are unlikely.

“I think we are very fortunate that calm heads prevailed, that businesspeople sat down and negotiated contracts that were advantageous for both sides, but most importantly, for our employees,” said Joseph McInerney, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based American Hotel & Lodging Association.

While Washington, D.C., and Vancouver hotels will see contracts expire next year, McInerney expects relative tranquility on the labor front until 2009.

In September, 4,200 workers accepted five-year contracts in San Francisco, retroactive to 2004. Over the past two years, labor-related actions have cost the city $48.7 million worth of business that had been booked, plus untold money lost on groups that stayed away, according to the city’s convention and visitors bureau.

“Obviously we’re relieved that negotiations are over and have been successful,” said Joe D’Alessandro, president and CEO of the San Francisco CVB, who added that several consecutive robust quarters for hotels likely paved the way for recent concessions. “There’s a little more sense of security knowing where the bottom line is,” he noted. “Hotels can afford it. Times have changed.”