Madison Hotel protests end as union reaches tentative agreement

March 31, 2011

Union workers who have been protesting every day for two months outside the Madison Hotel in Northwest Washington have come to a tentative agreement on contract issues with the hotel’s management company, a local union official said Thursday.

The picketing began within days after Atlanta-based Jamestown Properties purchased the hotel at 1177 15th St. NW on Jan. 19, replacing Loews Hotels as operator. According to the union, Unite Here Local 25, the new management fired 27 employees without warning and refused to honor the existing contract. Housekeepers saw their room quotas at the 353-room hotel increase to 16, from 14.

Negotiations between Local 25 and the management company, Destination Hotels & Resorts, had been at an impasse since Feb. 28. The two sides came to an agreement Wednesday night after some cajoling from Jamestown and D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who represents the neighborhood.

Union president John Boardman declined to provide the terms of the agreement until members vote Saturday. But he said the union is recommending approval because “the terms are very favorable.”

Boardman asked workers to stop picketing the site “as a sign of good faith.”

The dispute has cost the Madison business — the National Education Association canceled two weeks of bookings worth $350,000. And the picketers’ relentless, ear-splitting chants raised the ire of area residents and businesses.

“I was woken up by the loud noise every Sunday morning, heard it every evening,” said Masako Iwamoto, who lives blocks from the hotel. “I totally understand that they have rights, but what about my rights? If they had just finished this in one or two weeks, but after two months?”

Phones at Evans’s office have been ringing with callers complaining about the noisy protests, which were held from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

“Clearly, they were very loud, and I started to hear about it,” said Evans, who reached out to the union and hotel owner. “It was very disruptive to the neighborhood. We just wanted to get it resolved without taking a side.”

Boardman credits Evans and Jamestown with helping to end the impasse, but he is convinced that the persistent picketing drew attention to an issue that might have gone unnoticed.

The Madison agreement comes as Local 25 is negotiating a citywide contract with the Hotel Association of Washington, D.C., which is involved in the talks on behalf of District hotel operators. Workers have been operating without a contract since March 15.

Boardman said the biggest points of contention are management’s refusal to contribute more to pension plans, its setting of a first-year wage increase of less than 1 percent and the outsourcing of about 10 percent of the workforce.

Solomon Keene, president of the Hotel Association, said his members are open to the union’s proposal, though both sides agree on little beyond the workers’ health-care plan.

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