Sep 3, 2009
Hotel workers have succeeded in raising hospitality industry compensation well above the poverty level in contracts won in 2003 and 2006. Now they’re fighting to restore jobs and reduce workloads that can cause crippling injuries.
Citywide hotel contracts expired Monday for 6000 employees represented by UNITE-HERE Local 1, and the union says talks are stalled over demands that staffing levels be restored.
Hotels have laid off huge numbers of employees in the current recession and are “crying poor” in negotiations, though “profits are through the roof in the last decade,” said Annemarie Strassel of Local 1. “We’re calling on the industry to bring people back to work as the recession lifts, so workers aren’t doing the jobs of two or three people.”
Hotels never restored staffing levels after layoffs during the post 9/11 downturn in 2001, Strassel said. A 2006 study by the union found hotel housekeepers increasingly subject to preventable, disabling injuries, with a competitive “amenities race” on top of reduced staffing levels creating dangerous workloads.
[See the 2006 Newstip, Mothers Day event focuses on hotel workers’ injuries.]
“We’re calling on the industry to stop profiting on the backs of their workers,” she said.
Local 1 has raised wages for housekeepers from $8.83 an hour in 2002 to $14.60 today, along with health care and other benefits. In cities without union contracts, employees of the same chains earn near the minimum wage, and many rely on Medicaid and other public health programs.
The local is currently leading the longest hotel strike in U.S. labor history at the Congress Hotel, while the owners of the recently-organized Blackstone Hotel are waging “a fierce anti-union campaign,” Strassel said.
The local has charged that the company is behind a union decertification drive which followed the union’s victory in an employee vote last December; in July the company fired 15 employees including members of the union’s organizing and negotiating committees. Community leaders are joining in support of Blackstone workers, Strassel said.
Known for its intensive grassroots approach to organizing, UNITE HERE also faces citywide hotel contract negotiations in Los Angeles and San Francisco. A thousand hotel workers marched in downtown San Francisco when contracts expired there on August 14.