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Union, D.C. Hotels Prepare for Strike

The dispute is seen as a test for the newly formed national Unite Here union, the result of a merger between the textile workers' union and that for the hotel and restaurant industry. Officials of the combined union aim to bring new aggressiveness and cohesion to union negotiations in the hotel industry.

The hotels involved could lose millions of dollars in revenue during their most profitable season if managers and replacement employees are unable to maintain services, and if would-be customers refuse to cross picket lines.

_____Live Discussion_____
Transcript: John A. Boardman, executive secretary-treasurer of Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union Local 25 Washington, answered your questions.
_____Background_____
Old Labor Tactics Resurface in New Union (The Washington Post, Sep 17, 2004)
Hotel Employees Authorize Strike In California Cities (The Washington Post, Sep 17, 2004)
Hotels, Union End Talks, Prepare for Strike (The Washington Post, Sep 16, 2004)
Hotel Talks Show Mixed Progress (The Washington Post, Sep 15, 2004)
Workers at D.C. Hotels Vote to Authorize Strike (The Washington Post, Sep 14, 2004)
List of D.C. Hotels Potentially Affected by Strike
From Associated Press at 4:31 PM

Here is a list of the 14 Washington, D.C., hotels that could be hit by a strike.

* Best Western Skyline, 10 I St., SW
* Capital Hilton, 16th and K Sts., NW
* Washington Hilton & Towers, 1919 Connecticut Ave., NW
* Hilton Washington Embassy Row, 2015 Massachusetts Ave., NW
* Holiday Inn Downtown, 1155 14th St., NW
* Holiday Inn on the Hill, 415 New Jersey Ave., NW
* Hotel Washington, 515 15th St., NW
* Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill, 400 New Jersey Ave., NW
* Loews L'Enfant Plaza, 480 L'Enfant Plaza, SW
* Marriott Wardman Park, 2600 Woodley Rd., NW
* Mayflower Hotel, 1127 Connecticut Ave., NW
* Omni Shoreham Hotel, 2500 Calvert St., NW
* The Jefferson Hotel, 1200 16th St., NW
* Westin Embassy Row, 2100 Massachusetts Ave., NW

Source: Unite Here Local 25

The Civil Service Employees Association, based in Albany, N.Y., said yesterday that it canceled its plan to have a five-day annual delegate meeting at the Marriott Wardman Park because of the potential for a strike. Its 1,500 members had reserved 900 rooms at the hotel.

"The indications we received from [the national hotel union] is that a strike is imminent and as a result, we felt we could not put our members in a position where there was the potential for a strike to happen," said Stephen A. Madarasz, a spokesman for the CSEA.

Other meetings appear to be proceeding without interruption, including the National Postal Forum, scheduled to begin Sunday at the Washington Convention Center with at least 4,000 people attending. Most of those people plan to stay in nonunion hotels, said Executive Director Michael J. Genick, and the 35 or so people planning to stay in the Marriott Wardman Park will make their own decisions about whether to book rooms elsewhere.

Although a majority of District hotels -- 99 establishments -- are not unionized, most of the largest hotels are.

Twenty-six D.C. hotels employ union workers, accounting for 37 percent of the hotel rooms in the city. In addition to the 14 that are part of the hotel association negotiating the contract, 12 hotels are unionized but are not directly involved in the current bargaining. Some of those 12 have explicit agreements to adopt whatever contract emerges from the negotiations, while others will negotiate independently but will probably follow the pattern set by the bigger hotels.

The new contracts will cover hotels only in the District. Unions in other parts of the country have contracts that expire at different times, which the union believes weakens its bargaining power with large national hotel chains.

To remedy that, the 3,800 members of Local 25 want a two-year contract instead of the customary three-year agreement, so that the local contract would expire at the same time as contracts in New York and other major cities. The local hotel workers also want restrictions on their workload, rules for protesting what many consider poor treatment of employees by managers and larger raises than the hotels have offered.

Contracts expire at different times because in the past, hotels were typically locally owned and managed, and union contracts were negotiated with each owner. As hotel companies merged over the years, the result has been a patchwork of labor agreements. As a result, for example, the Hyatt Regency Washington is unionized but the Grand Hyatt Washington is not.

A strike would be uncharted territory for the Washington tourism economy. The only comparable incident in memory was a lockout of workers at the Madison Hotel in 1993 in a contract dispute.

Yesterday evening, security was being tightened at the Marriott Wardman Park, the largest hotel in town. Security guards required anyone entering the hotel to show a driver's license. At 7:30 p.m., the hotel lobby was filled with dozens of security guards but almost no customers; a single table was occupied in the hotel restaurant.

Labor experts said a strike poses a financial risk not only for hotels and individual workers, but also for the unions. If significant numbers of workers cross picket lines to work, or if the union yields on key demands, it could weaken the union's efforts to create a nationwide bargaining operation.

"If there's a strike and it's not successful, they don't have a bargaining position anymore," said Jonathan W Greenbaum, a partner at law firm Nixon Peabody LLP who has represented union and nonunion hotels in labor matters.

For individual workers, who are typically paid $13 an hour, a strike raises the prospect of going without regular wages for a long time. "It's going to be very hard," said Edward Oluwaseyi, a cook at the Hotel Washington, as he waited outside the Prince Hall Masonic Temple in Washington, where union members met. "I have expensive kids. But you have to stand up for yourself."

Local 25 has about $1 million in the bank, said research analyst Jennifer Shaw, and three years ago members voted to put $5 a month from their union dues into a strike fund. Churches and other civic groups plan to collect canned food donations to help workers on strike. Local 25's parent union, Unite Here, has $121 million in assets, according to a recent Labor Department filing.


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