April 4, 2013
Neal Tepel – Labor USA
UNITE HERE Local 2 President Mike Casey talked about an agreement with Hilton on Friday March 29, 20013, flanked by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and Hilton Union Square GM Michael Dunne.
Hilton Hotels, which is owned by the private equity Blackstone Group, after years of strikes, picket lines and boycotts haunting the industry, decided all the strife was bad for business. The result is a long-term agreement extending to August 2018 between Hilton and hotel union UNITE HERE. It covers six cities, including San Francisco, Chicago, Boston and Toronto.
The settlement provides fully paid medical insurance, no small achievement these days. It also strengthens job security in case of a hotel sale–and in the worst-case scenario, if bankruptcy looms, the union can protect those rights by striking. Job security and health care were the two most important concerns of Local 2 members, who enthusiastically approved the contract by a 99 percent margin.
In addition, annual compensation increases of 4 percent will be distributed between wages and benefits as decided by the union negotiating committee. This is somewhat unusual for the union, but warranted, according to Local 2 president Mike Casey, "because of the uncertain costs associated with the Affordable Care Act."
In remarks the March 29th press conference, Hilton general manager Michael Dunne greeted the settlement as a breath of fresh air. "It is good for our hotel, our team members and the city of San Francisco," he said.
The union is not sitting still. The Hilton contract is now the standard. "Over the coming weeks and months, we will begin talks with the rest of the union employers and hope to quickly reach the same agreement," Local 2 spokeswoman Julia Wong said.
The Hilton agreement sent a message to both union and nonunion hotels in the area. UNITE HERE is prepared to launch a massive organizing drive that will reach tens of thousands of nonunion hotel workers in Northern California lacking affordable family health care, pensions and living wages.
The unions philosophy is clear: To improve conditions in the hotel industry, we must reach out to both union and nonunion workers.
Beginning this April, hundreds of San Francisco hotel workers will engage in a week of action against Hyatt, with pickets at the Grand Hyatt Union Square, Hyatt Fisherman's Wharf and Hyatt Regency Santa Clara. So while Hilton management can now sigh with relief for the next five years, those taking the Hyatt route–or "low road," as Casey describes it–don't seem to be in for relief any time soon.