Employees of 14 major District hotels voted overwhelmingly yesterday to authorize a strike, raising the possibility of a work stoppage in a large portion of the city's tourism industry.
The contract covering 3,800 members of Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union Local 25 expires tomorrow. As of yesterday evening, many of the key disagreements between the two sides had not been broached at the negotiating table.
About 94 percent of union members voted yesterday to let their leaders call a strike if they think it appropriate, union leaders said.
Both hotel executives and union officials said they remain optimistic that a deal can be struck before the old contract expires, but they said that progress yesterday was modest.
"The talks have been constructive, but we still have a lot of work to do," said Frank Otero, general manager of the Hilton Washington & Towers and chairman of the Hotel Association of Washington.
"We're still 50 hours away" from the contract expiring, John Boardman, executive secretary-treasurer of Local 25, said yesterday afternoon. "That's a million years in negotiating time. But we're still very, very far apart."
If the negotiations were to end in a work stoppage, it could have a significant impact on the District's economy. Hospitality and leisure companies account for 7.5 percent of the city's jobs. Hotels are that industry's linchpin, offering accommodations for the millions of visitors a year who eat at restaurants, buy souvenirs and pay tour guides. The negotiations come at a crucial time for travel-related businesses locally, just as activity is returning to the levels before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. And fall is usually a boom time for hotels.
"We've worked really, really hard in the last three years to recover from 9/11," said William A. Hanbury, chief executive of the Washington Convention & Tourism Corp. "A strike would be a setback for us, and we absolutely don't want that to happen."
The five largest hotels in the Washington area are at the bargaining table, and the 14 hotels involved together have almost 28 percent of the District's hotel rooms.
Also, an agreement between these hotels and their workers would set a pattern for negotiations at an additional 22 local hotels. These hotels are unionized but negotiate separately and would not be directly affected by a strike.