Hilton Makes Peace in San Francisco

By Carl Finamore

Union, Hilton deal in SF

General Manager Michael Dunne (L) smiles with relief as union president Mike Casey wryly mentions to laughter, cheers and applause that “oh yeah, our boycott against the Hilton is over!”

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it,” Yogi Berra quipped in one of his funnier comical observations. That’s exactly what San Francisco Hilton General Manager Michael Dunne did.

He broke from the pack of 59 other hotels still in a contract dispute with 8000 workers and signed a tentative agreement with UNITE-HERE Local 2 in San Francisco, ending an 18th month labor dispute that has rocked this city.

The contract settlement – which is subject to a ratification vote this Friday – was reached during negotiations last Thursday, and was finalized over the weekend. It is a four-year agreement, back to August 2009 and forward to August 2013. It provides for continued, fully-paid health benefits, pension improvements, two dollars in total hourly wage increases, and workload reductions.

“This settlement sets an excellent new standard,” Local 2 research director Ian Lewis told me.

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Hyatt files charges against San Francisco Hotel Union

By Carl Finamore

Susan Au Allen, CEO, US Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce and David Nadelman, General Manager, Grand Hyatt

Within hours of the twenty-fifth anniversary of Martin Luther King’s national holiday coming to an end on Monday, January 17, San Francisco Grand Hyatt management called an early morning Tuesday press conference to denounce the hotel union, Local 2, UNITE-HERE, for its boycott of ten city hotels and the devastating impact it had on the city’s economy.

Of course, Martin Luther King first gained national prominence for his championing of the 1956 Montgomery bus boycott which itself had an admittedly devastating impact on downtown businesses.

Nobody at the press conference noticed the irony.
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The Good, The Bad & The Ugly in SF Hotel Dispute

By Carl Finamore

Law professors making the case for SF Hilton Workers at the January 7 picket

For a few hours on Friday, January 7, San Francisco’s most contentious and longest-running labor dispute recalled scenes straight out of Hollywood, at least that’s how distinguished law professor Jack Getman saw it.

Speaking from a flat-bed truck parked in front of the city’s one-square block premier downtown Hilton hotel, the Earl E. Sheffield Regents Chair Professor at the University of Texas, fired away: “This is like an old western movie where there are good guys and bad guys, and,” pointing his finger toward the hotel doorway entrance, “here in San Francisco, clearly, Hilton management are the bad guys and hotel workers are the good guys.”

The sidewalk picket audience of around 100 laughed and cheered, including Getman’s numerous colleagues from the most prominent law schools in the nation.

The Association of American Law Schools (AALS), comprised of around 300 Law Schools, scheduled its annual convention of 3000 delegates at the Hilton, the largest hotel on the west coast with 1908 rooms and three enormously tall towers offering majestic panoramic views of the wondrous San Francisco skyline and bay waters.

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Hotel Workers Dig In Amidst Threats & Retaliations

by Carl Finamore

Local 2 member Marc Norton leaves the Hilton restaurant & bar. A delegation of around a dozen was protesting the firing of bartender Johan Tahir.

Nationally, hotels experienced a record 5.7 percent rise in the occupancy in 2010 leading prominent analyst R. Mark Woodworth to comment that “the swift pace of recovery in the lodging industry has been remarkable….a base has been established for very strong gains in both revenue and profits in the years to come.”

Yet, major hotels like the Hilton and Hyatt are still demanding dramatic cuts in health benefits and pensions along with significant increases in work assignments.

The hotel union, UNITE-HERE, is responding. On December 16, there were protests in San Francisco and Honolulu against the Hilton and a day-long strike against the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago.

Meanwhile, management is reciprocating. In San Francisco, for example, they are stepping up their harassment as the contract dispute with 9000 workers at 61 hotels enters its 17th month.

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Inside Organizing and Outside Representation: Unite Here Local 2 and SF Hotels

By Carl Finamore

Pickets urging a boycott at the Grand Hyatt in downtown San Francisco

Organizing workers into a union usually brings out the best in labor. Organizers are truly motivated, committed, work long hours and genuinely believe in helping workers.

But not everything is always as good as it appears. We know from watching pumped-up 30-second movie trailers that the full 90-minute release might not actually measure up to its hype. We are sometimes disappointed. It’s the same with us in the union movement.

We have to work on closing the gap between how we project ourselves so favorably while organizing and how we sometimes actually perform so routinely while representing.

Connecting these dots of representing current members and recruiting new workers played out on the downtown streets of San Francisco on Friday, February 19.

UNITE-HERE, Local 2, was conducting one of their trademark “All Day, All Night Sieges” of the boycotted Grand Hyatt in conjunction with their ongoing six-month contract dispute with 63 city hotels.
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Strikes, Boycotts & Arrests Mark SF Hotel Dispute

By Carl Finamore

The San Francisco Hilton is the city’s largest, taking up a square block of prime downtown real estate and boasting 1900 rooms. Celebrity heiress Paris Hilton’s signature phrase, “That’s Hot!” might very well apply to the “stunning million dollar views” advertised by her hotel namesake. But it’s more like “That’s Cold!” when describing the views of the Hilton owners towards their employees.

In fact, the Blackstone Group, which owns the Hilton chain, proposes cutting starting wages for new hires by 25%. According to a union fact sheet, the CEO and part owner of Blackstone was paid $1,385,391,042 in 2008.. That’s right, one billion dollars plus. The average union hotel worker earned $30,000 in that same year.

This explains why over 800 members of Local 2, UNITE-HERE and 400 supporters staged their impressive rally and civil disobedience action blocking for several hours the main hotel entrance before 140 sit-in protesters were arrested, cited for misdemeanor trespassing and released a short time later.

UNITE HERE President John Wilhelm

UNITE HERE President John Wilhelm

Arrestees included Richard Trumka, new President of the 13-million member AFL-CIO and John Wilhelm, International President of the 265,000-member UNITE-HERE. Trumka called the attitude of the hotels a “disgrace” while Wilhelm congratulated Local 2 for its “heart, spirit and endurance” which he said “would spread across the country in 2010” as other hotel contracts expire.

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