Hotel Workers Begin Two Week Strike in San Francisco
Hoteliers Lockout Non-Striking Workers
Is Another So. Cal. Grocery Strike Disaster on the Way?
Fourteen hundred workers are on strike in San Francisco, and another 2,600 have been locked out of their jobs at fourteen high price hotels. The striking and locked-out workers are members of UNITE HERE Local 2, fighting against an increase in their payments for health care. The strike comes at the beginning of the San Francisco fall tourist season and with luck may hit the bosses hard.
UNITE HERE members stuck four hotels in San Francisco on the 29th. In two days the employers had locked out the rest of San Francisco’s union hotel workforce. Members of the union had voted on the 13th and 14th of September in Los Angeles (Local 11), Washington, D.C. (Local 25) and San Francisco (Local 2), to authorize union leaders to call a strike if it proves necessary. The vote in favor of authorizing a strike was overwhelming in all areas: in San Francisco more than 97 percent of votes cast were in favor, and 77 percent of eligible members voted.
UNITE HERE is the awkwardly named result of a merger of the former Union of Needletrades, Textiles and Industrial Employees (UNITE), and the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (HERE), two separate unions. It is the bargaining agent for 13,000 hotel workers in the areas which voted to strike.
The union faces a group of bosses that have learned to work together against their employees. The success of the employers in the Southern California grocery workers strike has emboldened the employers. Although the bosses have long complained about sympathy strikes and other tactics of solidarity, apparently it suits them well. Hotels in Los Angeles have a similar agreement to the one that locked out workers in San Francisco. Mark Huntely, president of a San Francisco employer’s organization, was quoted echoing the old union slogan (“an injury to one is an injury to all”), “a strike against one of our hotels is a strike against all of our hotels.”
The hotels are insistent on locking workers into a longer, five-year contract. Also at issue is what the grocery workers faced, and what many of us are facing or will be facing in the near future: the cutbacks of health and pension benefits. This new tactic of the bosses has proven potent: they save very real money without cutting wages. After all, they are just asking employees to pay their fair share.
The cost of health insurance is rising, and employers would love to pass the cost on completely to the workers, who can least afford it. The rising cost of health care benefits not only the health care companies, but employers who buy health care, who are more than happy to use these rising costs as a lever to cut wages. After all, the numbers are easy enough to fudge, to make it look as though costs have risen more than they really have. If companies were truly concerned about the rising cost of health care, they would be looking into ways to reduce or eliminate it; as it is, the owners would rather buy some stock in pharmaceuticals.
Although the hotel industry practices its own form of solidarity, it knows what a dangerous thing it can be on the other side. So it is bitterly opposed to one of UNITE HERE’s primary demands: contracts with simultaneous ending dates. The bosses are desperate to divide union members, and it may in fact be possible for them to do so.
The precedent for union solidarity is not good. On 16 September, the first day following the expiration of a contract between UNITE HERE and the Wilshire Grand Hotel in Los Angeles, 17 laundry workers were greeted with a friendly sign. “Attention laundry employees Local 52 UNITE HERE bargaining unit members: You are hereby LOCKED OUT until further notice. Do not attempt to enter the facilities.” It seems that the hotel owners these days know the value of solidarity more than the union. The union filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, an action sure to bear fruit before the second coming.
We can only hope that the union rank and file will get involved in this strike in a way that they were not in the Los Angeles grocery strike, in spite of the fact that the union would prefer complacency from them. Another “successful” strike like the one in L.A. would give industry the idea that there is a simple formula to handling striking workers. Allow a strike to occur, lock out all the union workers, hire replacements, watch the union leadership roll over and call off pickets while the rank and file struggle to feed their families, and wait it out. If the rank and file don’t stage a strong strike, they’re certain to be S.O.L.
The following hotels are currently struck or locked out and being picketed. If you are in the area and have some time to spare, please join the picket lines. Argent Hotel (50 Third Street near Market); Crowne Plaza Union Square (Sutter and Powell); Fairmont Hotel (California and Mason); Four Seasons (757 Market between 3rd and 4th Sts); Grand Hyatt (345 Stockton at Sutter); Hilton (333 O’Farrell at Mason); Holiday Inn Civic Center (50 Eighth St at Market); Holiday Inn Express at Fish Wharf (550 Northpoint); Holiday Inn at Fish Wharf (1300 Columbus); Hyatt Regency (Market at Embarcadero); Mark Hopkins (California and Mason); Omni San Francisco (500 California); Sheraton Palace (Market and New Montgomery); St. Francis (Powell and Geary)