Hotel groups and union offer Meeting planners advice
Meeting planners worried about a summer of labor unrest may take some comfort in the fact that hotel organizations are trying to help them -- as is the very union that they fear will escalate wage and benefits demands into job actions.
Unite Heres Amanda Cooper said the union has posted information on a Web site maintained by the union to offer advice in the event a labor action is taken at a hotel where a conference is planned.
We want to make sure they [meeting planners] understand what their options are, Cooper said. The hotels are not necessarily the most forthcoming with these folks on what might occur at their event. We dont want anyone to be caught unaware, and we will work with whoever will work with us.
The Web site, www.hotellaboradvisor.info, offers tips on what to do if a job action is called at a hotel where a conference or convention is planned.
It also offers a meeting planners resource manual, a 17-page document with information from lawyers that the union says are familiar with legal issues pertaining to hotel reservation agreements, and sample reservation contract language.
Multi-employer groups, including the Chicago Area Hotel Group, are also offering advice and assurances on Web sites to those who schedule conventions and business conferences meetings.
Bill Keegan of the Chicago Area Hotel Group, which last month launched an information Web site for hotel employees in Chicago, www.chicagohotelemployeesinfo.com, said the group has already heard from meeting planners trying to keep up with possible consequences of labor negotiations this summer.
There have been some concerns expressed, and we have had calls asking what all this means to meeting planners, he said.
We have a site for meeting planners, and we are developing a guide that will be a useful resource.
We want them to feel they can book with confidence, Keegan said. That is a key goal, so they will have contingency plans in place based on developments that may occur.
As of last week, the meeting planner information on the Web site was still under construction.-- D.L.
Across the street from Californias Monterey
County Fairgrounds, not far from Cannery Row, Deborah Stewart looks
out on a scene that matters far more to the fortunes of the small
hotel she manages than the beauty of Monterey Bay or the dozens of
fairground events that draw thousands of visitors each year.
What has unfolded
outside her Monterey Bay Travelodge, day in and day out for almost
two years, is a job action that hotels, convention and visitors
bureaus and other players in the U.S. tourism industry fear could
blemish their own economic landscapes in the months
Stewart has watched
her 13 unionized hotel employees -- at times accompanied by
high-profile, national labor leaders -- form picket lines, carry
signs and stage more than 80 rallies to protest low wages and
vanishing healthcare benefits.
The workers have
periodically been joined by local political figures and hundreds of
citizen supporters. More than once, Stewart has called the Monterey
Police Department, threatening employees with arrest on trespassing
They called police
as recently as two weeks ago, said Mark Weller, projects
coordinator for Unite Here Local 483, which represents the workers.
The union launched a boycott of the hotel in mid-2004 and,
according to Weller, these have been peaceful protests, with
children and families there, talking about healthcare and living
wages. The reaction has been ridiculous.
The protests and
the hotels response have been more than a highly contentious local
issue. They have grown into something of a cause celebre for Unite
Here, a national union that represents about 90,000 hotel and
restaurant workers. The union is expected to launch a full-frontal
attack on wage and benefit issues this summer in major cities
across the country.
Unite Heres two top
executives, Bruce Raynor and John Wilhelm, joined protesters
outside the Monterey Bay Travelodge last year. As many as 2,400
citizen supporters have walked the picket lines over the past 17
months, helping to keep the protests and boycott alive.
Even though the
Travelodge is a small hotel with only a handful of workers, the
unions fight has been relentless.
Unite Here filed
protests with the National Labor Relations Board after the hotels
absentee owner, Kilsoo Seo, threatened to fire workers and close
the hotel. He subsequently froze wages and canceled employees
longtime health benefits in what the union has characterized as
retaliation for legitimate protests.
Seo later settled
the charges with the NLRB, records show, agreeing to stop threats
against the workers. But the workers still have no contract and no
health benefits. And neither side is blinking.
Seo, who lives in
Alaska, could not be reached for comment. What Stewart may think or
feel as she watches her workers handing leaflets to guests during
lunch and work breaks is a matter of speculation. I cant comment,
she said after repeated calls. I cant talk about it.
Operators of other
local hotels on the popular Monterey Peninsula are also reluctant
to talk. Ten of those hotels -- all of which provide health
benefits and wages higher than the $8.84 an hour that housekeepers
make at the Travelodge -- will renegotiate their contracts with
Unite Here 483 this summer.
And while it may be
unclear how serious the economic damage has been to the local
Travelodge -- where lunch-time protests include chants, drums,
shakers and lots of signs -- the situation has clearly got the
attention of other hoteliers.
Seo and Stewart
have acknowledged on a couple of occasions that the hotel is losing
money, Weller said. So I think the action there will have an impact
on the upcoming negotiations. Such protests are something that the
other hotels want to avoid. Im sure they will all have that in mind
when negotiations start.
The tension isnt
limited to California. With Unite Here poised to go to the mat with
hotel companies from Los Angeles to New York this summer over
wages, benefits and union-organizing issues, the microdrama on
Monterey Bay increasingly seems to foreshadow things to come.
The protests at the
Monterey Bay Travelodge were among the first job actions by Unite
Here following the merger in July 2004 of Unite, the national
textile workers union, and Here, the union that had long
represented hotel and restaurant employees.
The union has come
a long way since then. Labor experts say its most significant
accomplishment to date may have been carrying out a process that
Here started before the merger: coordinating expiration dates of
contracts in six major cities.
The gauntlet was
thrown down with the official launch last month of its national
campaign, Hotel Workers Rising, featuring appearances by former
vice presidential candidate John Edwards and actor Danny
expiring in July and August in Los Angeles, New York, Toronto,
Boston, Honolulu and San Francisco. Whether it will be a long, hot
summer of labor disputes and difficult negotiations, with cities
sweating out the result, remains to be seen. But the unions
aggressive campaign, with rallies across the country and multiple
unionization drives, spell showdown for many interested
The fallout from
widespread job actions in the hospitality industry could have
serious consequences for business travelers, vacationers,
conventioneers, travel agents and businesses that thrive on
Hotel chains are
already mobilizing to prepare for worst-case scenarios, one in
which hotel workers strike, boycott, demonstrate or otherwise seek
to disrupt business in an effort to force employers to capitulate
on wage and benefit demands. Lockouts are possible, as is the
importation of workers from elsewhere to keep hotels
It is difficult to
predict what is going to happen, said David Sherwyn, an assistant
professor of labor relations and hospitality at Cornell University.
But it is fascinating. And many of us in the academic world are
waiting also to see what the summer of 2006 is going to bring.
People are already writing papers and planning conferences around
determination can best be seen in what has unfolded in California.
As Local 483 began escalating its efforts in Monterey in 2004,
contract expirations in San Francisco led to the first major
battleground with even more intense labor
Labor talks there
deteriorated into a stalemate in the fall of 2004, resulting in
hotel strikes, then lockouts and, finally, a series of
A truce was
negotiated by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, but since then,
hotel workers in the city have worked without a contract.
Negotiations are set to resume this summer.
While the labor
unrest had an impact on the economic well-being of both workers and
hotels, the collateral damage has also been significant for San
Franciscos entire tourism industry.
In 2004-2005, when
all this was coming down and it seemed like there was no light at
end of the tunnel, we took some cancellations, said Mark Theis,
vice president of the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau.
It equates to close to $50 million in economic impact for the
In all, the CVB
estimates that eight or nine conventions were canceled during the
strikes and lockouts, including a gathering of about 15,000
educators. And the pain will be long-lasting, since the numbers
include groups that were scheduled in 2007-2008 who did not want to
move forward because of the risk and ambiguity over labor issues,
Theis said he
believes the worst is over, especially now that concerns about
labor unrest are shifting to other major cities as Unite Here
broadens the scope of the Hotel Workers Rising campaign.
The pain is being
spread around a little now, Theis said. The irony is that even
though the union is trying to stand firm on its issues, when you
lose seven or eight groups of this magnitude, it also translates to
lost wages. When 15,000 or so educators, or whoever, dont come
here, that means less bell captains, less banquet service, all of
which directly impacts union wages.
declined to comment directly on Unite Here, referring calls instead
to what is known as Multi-Employer Groups, or MEGS, in various
group: Campaign is a farce
The American Hotel
and Lodging Association, on the other hand, has been forthcoming
and aggressive in its characterization of Hotel Workers
Its a campaign that
is full of hot air, said Joe McInerney, president of the
But more to the
point, he said, Unite Heres efforts have been more focused on
building the unions membership than on securing better wages and
benefits for workers. And hotel operators are concerned about the
tactics the union is using.
We have provided
employees with good wages and pensions and affordable healthcare,
McInerney said. But the union needs to grow membership, and that is
what this is really all about.
Our whole thing
here is we want to make sure the employee has the right to choose.
We are not against unions; we have unions throughout the country.
In our industry, in surveys we do every two years, 68% of the
employees at nonunion hotels have health and welfare benefits. And
72% of workers in the union hotels have health benefits. So it is
not that nonunion hotels are not providing health
The fact is, it is
hard to get hotel workers today, McInerney added. You have to
provide benefits. We want to be sure we provide competitive wages
and affordable healthcare and pensions. That is how we keep
workers, and anyone will tell you it costs more to have employee
Amanda Cooper, a
spokeswoman for Unite Here in New York, bristled at the suggestion
that wages and benefits are not primary issues, although she
acknowledges that building union membership to strengthen ranks is
The goal of this
campaign is to create a better life for hotel workers, she said. It
is our feeling, and it is reality, that hotel workers work hard and
they contribute greatly to the success of the properties where they
work. All that is not arguable.
All we are hoping
is that we can partner with the hotel industry and create
middle-class jobs for our workers. As far as hotel companies go, it
is entirely up to them. It is not in anyones interest to have a
summer of strikes. Strikes are hard on everybody. That is not the
goal of this campaign in any way.
that convention and tourism business could suffer if workers and
employers come to an impasse. But she said that political support
for unions often seen in such areas tells a different
There is definitely
a short-term risk for these communities if there is a job action
and they lose business, Cooper said. But mayors in these cities
recognize that what is good for the city is for their residents to
have good jobs. That is where the tax base comes from; it is where
money for food stamps and community-support programs comes from.
These consolidated hotel companies are not based in these cities.
Their profits leave the city, but the workers stay. Good-paying
jobs are the best anti-poverty program a city has.
She added: We hope
sincerely there is no short-term cost for the cities. But we have
to stand up for what we believe in and for what these communities
While employers and
the union may disagree on whether wages and benefits are fair, both
sides agree that the stage is now set for a drama that could affect
the strengthening but still recovering U.S. tourism
McInerney said that
while hotels have begun posting record revenues over the past year,
hospitality is a cyclical business that requires significant
capital investment regularly, and profits could easily fall
Union wage gains
from any nationally orchestrated effort that disrupts tourism are
not so cyclical, he said.
You can be sure
that they wont give it back when we have a downturn, he said of the
wages and benefits the union is seeking.
hotels have PR strategy
In Chicago, where
more than 7,000 union workers contracts expire in August, steps are
already being taken to prepare hotels to cope with potential labor
Repeated calls to
the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau, channeled first through
a city spokesmen, then to the bureaus spokesman, were eventually
referred to the private Chicago Area Hotels Group.
Bill Keegan, a
spokesman for the group, said that hotels that are members of this
new consortium launched a concerted information campaign late last
month that is aimed directly at the citys hotel workers to
counteract escalating union activities in preparation for contract
What we have been
trying to make clear, Keegan said, is that we understand and
respect the right of the union to have a national agenda in these
national markets. But the Chicago group is not concerned with a
national agenda ... we are only concerned about what is best for
To that end, the
20-member CAHG has launched a Web site offering information about
the upcoming Unite Here campaign, to explain to hotel workers their
rights and responsibilities and to conduct meet-and-greet events to
pledge cooperation and to keep workers informed on contract
They are also
trying to communicate with meetings planners and related tourism
interests to assure them of their plans to continue to provide
hotel rooms, convention and banquet services and other needs in the
event of labor trouble.
flyers, and we want employees to know that they can communicate
with us directly and not just through union stewards, Keegan said.
We want to provide them with that additional channel.
Labor experts say
Chicago and other cities on the list for new negotiations want to
avoid what happened in San Francisco, where a 14-member
multi-employer group saw failed negotiations dissolve into strikes
We dont want to see
any disruptions in the Chicago hospitality market, Keegan said. And
that is why we have taken these steps to go directly to
But Keegan said the
CAHG is also preparing to deal with contingencies and to take
whatever steps might be necessary to cope with any labor actions by
Unite Here -- although he declines to say what those steps might
We consider that
proprietary, he said.
But labor watchers
say it would come as no surprise to see hotels staffed by workers
from other parts of the country.
Frankly, I think
the union recognizes that it is not in the best interest of either
side to see job actions, Keegan said, so they will come to the
bargaining table in good faith.
reporter Dan Luzadder, send e-mail to [email protected].