San Francisco Giants Concession Workers Swing for the Fences

by Carl Finamore

SF Giants Park picketing (photo: Carl Finamore)

SF Giants Park picketing (photo: Carl Finamore)

Hey Baseball Fans, a big win was pulled out recently by the home team at beautiful San Francisco Giants stadium. The Giants are one of the oldest and most successful sports franchises in the country with more Hall of Fame enrollees and more total games won than any other club.

In fact, they have more W’s than any other professional sports team in the entire nation.

But this latest come from behind victory didn’t happen on the field where the Giants are (temporarily) experiencing a steep slump of sorts.

Instead, it took place in the stands where 800 seasonal concession workers organized by UNITE HERE Local 2 just ratified by 98% a contract with Centerplate, the subcontracted concessionaire at Giants Park and one of the largest hospitality companies in North America.

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Healthcare Costs Go Viral: Emergency Declared by San Francisco Labor

by Carl Finamore

finamore_healthemerIt’s a national epidemic finally getting some long overdue attention. To put rising costs in perspective, a dozen oranges today would cost $134 if adjusted at the same rate of price inflation that we’ve seen in healthcare since 1945.

And, it’s only getting worse. California health insurance premiums soared 185% since 2002. But we’ve heard these complaints before, it’s not new.

What is new is that the largest unions in San Francisco are doing something to reign in price gouging by insurers like California-based Kaiser Permanente, the nation’s largest HMO with 9.1 million subscribers.

For UNITE-HERE Local 2, one of the city’s largest unions representing 13,000 employees of restaurants and hotels in and around San Francisco, it has become a necessity. Continue reading

Hotel Frank Bosses Blow Town and Shut Down

by Marc Norton

Hotel Frank picket line April 2011

Hotel Frank workers and UNITE HERE Local 2 have driven the wannabe union-busting owners and operators of the hotel – AEW Capital Management and Provenance Hotels – out of San Francisco. The Hotel Frank bosses have tucked their tails between their legs, thrown a big wad of money at the workers, sold the hotel, and fled town. For the last two years, workers at this small, boutique hotel, just a block off Union Square at Geary and Mason, maintained rambunctious, loud and near-daily picket lines, heard and witnessed by many thousands of tourists and residents. Local 2 staged several rallies and mass demonstrations. On September 12, just two days before the hotel shut down, Hotel Frank workers ratified a settlement agreement with AEW and Provenance. The bosses are coughing up close to a million bucks for medical and pension payments they had failed to pay. The hotel also made sizeable severance payments to the workers, including six months of medical coverage going forward, and reinstated three workers who had been unfairly fired, including myself. While we are still far from victory, our solidarity and tenacity paid off.

One of the hotel’s initial demands was that I personally sign a “nondisparagement” agreement prohibiting me from making “any statements, verbally or in writing, about the Employer… their officers, directors, employees or agents, in any manner that is intended to, or does, call into question their morality [sic], conduct, business activity, or business judgment.”

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Bill Clinton Ducks Hotel Boycott in San Francisco

By Carl Finamore

Hotel workers boycott picket line of the St. Francis Hotel on March 16 stands firm even as former President Bill Clinton decided to speak at an event in the hotel.

Former president Bill Clinton accepted a March 16 speaking engagement at the San Francisco Westin St. Francis, a hotel which is the subject of a worker-called boycott endorsed by UNITE-HERE Local 2, the San Francisco Labor Council, AFL-CIO, and by numerous political, religious and community organizations.

Clinton ignored the boycott but could not avoid union members working inside who confirmed he was present. The former president takes in upwards of $350,000 each time he steps up to a podium with $65 million in documented speaking fees since leaving office through 2009.
The Starwood Hotels and Resorts, managers of the Westin St. Francis, are not doing so bad in that department either. According to the February 4, 2011 Wall St. Journal, Starwood’s revenue rose 7.5% last year to $1.34 billion.

CEO Frits van Paasschen boasted that “by containing costs we are translating these higher revenues into higher profits….”

Except for Clinton’s breach of solidarity, things had been going rather well the last week. Only a few days ago, the respected organization NARAL Pro-Choice for America pulled its luncheon from the Westin St. Francis to another union hotel not on the boycott list.

It was also in this same week that hotel workers overwhelmingly approved the breakthrough contract with the San Francisco Hilton, the first hotel to settle among 59 remaining in the 18-month labor dispute affecting over 8000 workers.

Yet, in the face of the Hilton settlement, Starwood broke off negotiations and “has shown no urgency to return. If Hilton can settle on a contract that respects its workers, why can’t Starwood?” asked Riddi Mehta, union spokeswoman.

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Hyatt Sweeps Dirty Safety Record Under the Rug

By Carl Finamore

Carl Finamore

Carl Finamore

The Hyatt Corporation just posted quarterly profits that jumped six hundred percent with their stock prices climbing at around the same rate. Along with this jumping and climbing, the corporation has taken up running, as in running away from the worst safety record in the industry.

Hyatt ranks last in workplace injuries suffered by its housekeeping staff according to UNITE-HERE, the union representing over 100,000 workers in more than 900 hotels in North America. The union is not alone. It cites a peer-reviewed academic study published by the American Journal of Industrial Medicine that places Hyatt dead last among the 50 hotels studied.

The abysmal record prompted Hyatt housekeepers at twelve hotels in eight different cities to simultaneously file injury complaints a few weeks ago with the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). The union cites public records submitted by the hotels that indicate a 50 percent higher injury rate than the rest of industry.

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San Francisco’s Hotel Frank[enstein] puts on a Horror Show for Employees

By Carl Finamore

San Francisco’s small, fashionable Hotel Frank is strategically located in the center of downtown just around the corner from two world-acclaimed theatres, the Curran and ACT. But no one imagined the chic hotel that advertises itself as “hip” and “liberating” would itself stage a performance that has people clamoring outside in ticket lines.

Oh, my mistake, I meant picket lines.

Pickets did indeed start up at the Hotel Frank after new management, Provenance, unilaterally announced in May 2010 the cancellation of all union contracts at both the Frank and its sister among the so-called boutiques, the Hotel Metropolis. This was a stunning announcement.

Provenance was actually hired by Wells Fargo, Trustee of the foreclosure of the Hotel Frank and Metropolis when the previous owners, pretty shady characters themselves as we shall learn, made a series of incredibly stupid business decisions that are still disdainfully ridiculed in business circles.

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Sitting Down, Chicago Hotel Workers Rise

by Bob Roman

Photo Credit Jerry Mead Lucero

On Thursday, July 22, several hundred people gathered in front of downtown Chicago’s Hyatt Regency hotel to protest the Hyatt chain’s failure to negotiate a new contract and, more to the point, to protest management’s attempt to take back gains made in the previous contract. Management’s rationale being the recession at a time when business at the Hyatt is recovering and the enterprise is, in any case, profitable. This action was part of a nationwide day of action at Hyatt hotels called by UNITE HERE.

Some 17 different actions were held in the United States and Canada. With the exception of a Thursday morning action out at the Hyatt near O’Hare Airport, they all featured civil disobedience leading to arrests. In Chicago, not all those participating in blocking the street remained to be arrested. This was done to allow some police officers time off to attend slain police officer Michael Bailey’s wake and funeral. Not all the participants were happy about this, but everyone behaved in a disciplined and focused manner.

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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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San Francisco Readies for a Major Labor Dispute

By Carl Finamore

carl_finamoreThe Law of Momentum, one of the most powerful postulates of physics, describes a collision “where the momentum gained by one object is equal to the momentum lost by the other object.” Physics is of course one of the “hard” sciences, but the same formula can perhaps be aptly applied to the “softer” social sciences as well, where opposing economic forces collide and jockey for position.  We are seeing such a clash in San Francisco.

Contract negotiations for 9000 hotel workers have not yet reached the three-month mark. Yet, there have already been over 100 arrests, several downtown protests of over 1000, a planned extended hotel “SIEGE” that “drives the cheap bosses nuts” and now an overwhelmingly conclusive strike vote.

It seems clear that another major street fight is shaping up between the powerful Local 2, UNITE-HERE, AFL-CIO, hotel workers union and two dozen of the city’s largest and most prominent hotels. Big names like Starwood, Hilton, Hyatt, Fairmont and InterContinental are all locked in a battle with the union over shifting more healthcare costs to employees and on increasing workloads.

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