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San Francisco hotel workers vote to authorize strike

Photo(s) by Stephen Dorian Miner

By Tamara Barak / Brent Begin, Bay City News Service

August 24, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) -Housekeepers, line cooks, food servers and other staff at 13 San Francisco hotels voted overwhelmingly tonight to authorize a strike if necessary.

According to Unite Here Local 2 President Mike Casey, 93 percent of workers who voted tonight cast 'yes' votes. In total, 2,241 union members voted to authorize a strike and 168 voted against it. About 59 percent of the bargaining unit vote.

Contract negotiations have been stalled for about two years. Union leaders hope the threat of a strike will motivate employers to finally come to an agreement with the workers.

"We're hoping these guys come to their senses and make a deal happen," Casey said.

Mike Casey

The two sides are scheduled to meet at the bargaining table Monday through Friday of next week.

"We're not going on strike immediately. We'll see how things play out the early part of next week," Casey said.

Earlier today, a spokesman for the San Francisco Multi-Employer Group, which represents the 13 hotels still involved in the contract dispute, acknowledged the union's efforts to speed negotiations, but he played down talk of an actual strike.

"What's being lost in the whole process is that this is just an authorization to strike," spokesman Noah Griffin said. "If it's going to light a fire, then we hope both sides will see the light of settlement, not the heat of conflict."

At issue are several provisions of a new contract that has yet to be ratified. The last official contract expired in 2004, resulting in a two-week strike by workers and a subsequent seven-week lockout initiated by hotel management.

According to Casey, the union is looking for full health care benefits, retirement and pension packages, and retroactive wage increases.

One of the main sticking points, health care, is close to resolution, according to Griffin. He said a "substantial" offer is on the table.

Casey said the union is looking for a major offer on a health plan. He acknowledged that health care costs have skyrocketed recently, but he said hotel profits have as well.

On top of the monetary demands, workers also are looking for job security and the right to organize.

Casey added that recent refinements in hotel rooms have led to an increased workload for housekeeping staff, and he wants that addressed as well.

"It used to be that every bed had four pillows," Casey said. "Now, you've got eight, sometimes even 12 pillows to clean, plus these huge duvets to take care of. It's really added to the housekeepers' work load."

One thing on which both sides agree: tourism in San Francisco is on the rebound.

According to the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau, occupancy and hotel room rates were up in 2005 from the previous year.

Preliminary numbers for 2006 also show an upswing in tourist activity. The bureau's numbers come from a hospitality research group.

Griffin said the boost in business is an urgent reason to resolve the contract dispute.

"It behooves the hotel workers, the hotels and the people of San Francisco to get this thing quickly resolved," Griffin said.

Mayor Gavin Newsom, who became involved in contract negotiations after the 2004 lockout, has been monitoring the progress of talks for the last six months, according to a spokesman for his office. Newsom hopes for an amicable resolution and will only join negotiations if invited by both parties, the spokesman said.

Copyright © 2006 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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