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Vol. 73/No. 46      November 30, 2009

Bay Area hotel workers
strike for new contract
SAN FRANCISCO—Chants of “No contract, no peace” echoed through the downtown area here November 13. Hundreds of hotel workers and their supporters picketed outside the Palace Hotel, where a lavish reception celebrating its 100th anniversary was taking place.

The Palace Hotel is owned by Starwood Corporation. According to an information flyer from UNITE HERE, the union that represents the workers, Starwood registered $1.9 billion in profits from 2006 to 2008. In the first nine months of this year the company has raked in $180 million in profits and its stock price has risen 85 percent.

The picket action came on the heels of a three-day walkout by Palace Hotel workers, who are fighting demands by San Francisco hotel owners for increased workloads through combining jobs and that workers pay higher amounts for health care. The union is asking for a 1.5 percent pay increase in order to cover health-care and pension costs.

Kaiser Permanente, which covers most UNITE HERE Local 2 members, estimates that costs for health-care coverage will rise by 30 percent over the next three years, reported the New York Times.

The strike was one of a number of recent actions by members of the union, whose contract ran out in August.

On October 22, with hotel owners refusing to budge from their takeback demands, more than 3,000 Local 2 members voted by a 92 percent margin to authorize strikes against 31 of the city’s hotels. The union’s 125-member bargaining committee was given authority to call strikes.

Among the pickets at the Palace Hotel was Adrian Henriquez, a bartender at the Holiday Inn. “The hotels are trying to take back what they failed to get in 2004,” he said. Henriquez was referring to the union's fight between 2004 and 2006 that turned back employer demands for increased health-care premiums and a two-tier system of health benefits. At that time the union negotiated with owners of the downtown hotels as a group. This time UNITE HERE is bargaining with the hotel chains separately.

“The hotel owners are crying that they are not making enough money,” said Esther Dominguez, who has worked 33 years as a housekeeper. “Yes, the economy is bad today. But the hotels are making money. We cannot afford these extra payments for medical care. They can. They should pay.”
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