Trouble in Paradise: Bitter Carmel hotel labor battle has roots in San Francisco

 by Marc Norton

 Carmel, celebrated as an artist colony nestled above a picturesque white-sand beach, is not where you would expect to find a picket line.  But there I was, with maybe 40 others, on a Friday evening the week before Christmas, in front of the La Playa Hotel, shaking noisemakers made from plastic bottles, chanting, “WHAT DO WE WANT? OUR JOBS!”

 Happy holidays, indeed.

 Two years ago, in November 2011, a new owner took over the La Playa Hotel, closed it down, and put a hundred workers on the street.  When the hotel reopened after a $3.5 million remodel, it was with a whole new staff.  The new owner “tossed us out with the old carpets” reads a workers’ leaflet.  Workers like Noe Hinojosa, who had been at the hotel 33 years, like Suong Edwards, who had worked there 31 years, like Sherrie Watkins, who had served guests for 28 years. Continue reading

Hyatt Hotel Slams Week of Strikes

By Carl Finamore

Victoria Guillen with her lovely daughter on picket duty at San Francisco Grand Hyatt

Hyatt Hotels wasted no time and pulled no punches in condemning UNITE-HERE’s seven-day strike against six hotels in San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles and Waikiki.

Spokesperson for San Francisco Hyatt Hotels, Peter Hillan, told me on the first day of the strike that “we offered UNITE-HERE’s Local 2 the same contract they signed with the Hilton, Starwood and Intercontinental but the union leadership rejected our offer. This strike is nothing but street theatre that hurts our associates.”

“Oh yeah,” responded 15-year Grand Hyatt employee Aurolyn Rush when learning of Hillan’s dismissive remark, “then why are we all here,” as her arms extended proudly to the active picket line outside her hotel.

All 700 workers walked off the job on September 8 at the two downtown Hyatt hotels in the “City by the Bay” with the union indicating over 2000 workers participating in the strike nationally.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading