After weeks of negotiations, 14 major hotels in the District of Columbia and their unionized workers have failed to reach agreement on a new labor contract, and a strike could be imminent. Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union Local 25 is representing workers in the talks.
John A. Boardman, executive secretary-treasurer of the union, was online to talk about what the workers are seeking from their employers. A transcript follows.
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John A. Boardman: Good afternoon. I appreciate being given the opportunity to answer questions. I am a poor typist so stick with me... By way of a brief update for the readers -- Management left the negotiations on Wednesday walking out 7 hours prior to the deadline. The Union has been implementing its strike logistics since and we are currently at 75% ready. We will have complete preparation tomorrow evening with picket captain training and picket sign production.
This seems like a very risky undertaking.
What happens if the strike goes on long enough for the hotels to lose so much business that it would be impossible for them to hire the strikers, much less accept their demands? Or what will happen with the strikers if the hotels hire enough capable replacements to nullify the strike's effects?
It seems that the strikers are risking to kill the goose (hotel business) that lays the golden eggs (employment).
John A. Boardman: The hotels are extremely well positioned, particularly in Washington. The industry is experiencing a period that exceeds the record highs prior to 9/11. Additionally, the hotel room inventory is not excessive. In other words, hotels were not built after the last boom due to the 9/11 downturn. Thus, the economic package is not the issue. The issue in these negotiations has been matters of respect and dignity.
Kansas City, Mo.:
Mr. Boardman - If there is a strike, how long is it likely to last. I'm scheduled to attend a convention at one of the union hotels during the first week of October. I have to decide whether to cancel my plans. The sponsor of the show is of course still encouraging registrants that all will be well.
John A. Boardman: While we are not on strike right now, I would expect action very soon. I would also expect that the hotels would be affected through October.
I've been following the news about the impending strike and am curious about the specific "sticking" points that has broken down discussions. I read that management respect is one of them, but are all the hotel managers really that bad? Thanks for your time.
John A. Boardman: Let me say at the onset that not ALL managers are bad. But, protection against abusive managers or unfair workloads is a critical issue for our members. Industry statistics demonstrate that the hotels are busier than ever yet the work force has not been restaffed.
That, by the way, raises the interesting issue: if hotels have not been able to restaff prior to the strike, how are they going to provide any level of service to guests during the strike?
Woodley Park, D.C.:
Hello, Mr. Boardman, thanks for doing this chat. I live in an apartment building between the Marriott Wardman Park and the Omni Shoreham. Will the strike affect getting around or through the neighborhood? What should the hotels' neighbors expect over the next few weeks?
John A. Boardman: Thank you for this question. We are of course mindful that some of he affected properties operate in neighborhood settings. We certainly are not intending to disrupt citizens' lives more than would be required to conduct effective pressure on our employers. Please keep in mind that management walked out on the negotiations and has in essence forced the Union to respond with a strike. On behalf of our members I ask that you understand our struggle. You may wish to contact the hotel General Managers at the properties you mentioned and urge them to return to the table and bargain.
If in fact the strike occurs, what is the estimated strike date?
John A. Boardman: We will be ready to take strike action tomorrow evening. The tactical decision on timing has not yet been determined.
The recent Post articles state that hotel workers "are typically paid $13 an hour". Could you explain more about the salary structure according to the type of work and level of experience? It doesn't seem that all types of work and levels of experience should be paid about the same.
washingtonpost.com: Union, D.C. Hotels Prepare For Strike (Post, Sept. 17)
John A. Boardman: Local 25 represents a broad range of classifications in the hotels from the doormen that greets you to the housekeeper that cleans your room, the laundry that supplies the linen, the cooks that makes the meals and the servers that put the plate on the table. If you have a drink a Local 25 bartender pour it for your.
The base rate for housekeepers, dishwashers, stewards, laundry is $13/hour. Other classifications like bellman and servers receive less due to tip income.
In the event of a strike, are there plans to get information out to the general public? How can the public help support the union?
John A. Boardman: We have been making an effort to keep the press briefed on an on-going basis and will continue to do so as information becomes available. We want to be able to provide travelers with as much information as is possible. Those anticipating coming to Washington would be wise to consider the likelyhood of a strike following the completion of our readiness tomorrow evening.
I'd like to know which hotels are unionized and which ones are not. Is there a master list somewhere for different cities? Does it vary by chain?
John A. Boardman: I will provide our web sight information in a moment. I have my assistant retrieving the web address.
Basking Ridge, N.J.:
I too am coming to one of these Hotels, and am concerned. I read in a news article that the Union showed up late to talks, because they were holding a press conference. Is this true? If so, I would expect a better, more genuine effort from the Union side of negotiations. Thanks.
John A. Boardman: I am perplexed by management's assertion on this timing issue. I notified management the day before of the timing of the press conference and again on their arrival at the negotiating site. Additionally, the press conference concluded at 12:05PM on Wednesday at which time the management side asked for a lunch break until 1:30PM
Lastly, management walked out of negotiations with 7 hours left to go before contract expiration not the Union.
Does the strike seem imminent and if so, what is the projected strike date and duration?
John A. Boardman: Yes, a strike is likely. The duration is not predictable at this time.
It seems to me that the offer from the hotels described in the Post yesterday was reasonable and that excessive demands from the union could backfire. What will you do if the union "loses"?
washingtonpost.com: Union, D.C. Hotels Prepare For Strike (Post, Sept. 17)
John A. Boardman: I have not been avoiding this question. We believe that the hotels can afford to agree to both our dignity and respect issues and the economic package. We also believe that given the level of bookings that a strike would inflict heavy losses on hotel revenues. Thus, we are confident we will win.
If its a matter of dignity and respect, why is the length of contract the issue?
John A. Boardman: Another important question...
The companies we deal with here in Washington are national chains with national labor relations strategies. In order for hotel workers to balance that kind of national power we must negotiate in the same manner -- nationally. The two year term - which is also on the table in Los Angeles and San Francisco - will align housekeeper and cooks, etc. with their counterparts in New York, Chicago, Boston, etc. whose contract expire in '06.
Hello John, thanks for doing this chat. I know the hotel employees work very hard, and suffered a lot after the 9/11 layoffs. I live in Adams Morgan, and we've got a good number of hotel employees who are our neighbors, and of course the Hilton is right there. I'm wondering what we can do in the community to help the union members out, both during strike preparations and during an eventual strike, if it comes to that.
John A. Boardman: Thank you for your offer. We do have extensive support across the community for the members engaged in these negotiations. Many religious, community, political and other leaders are on the Local 25 Support Committee. If there is someone interested in assisting you can get to us through our web site: www.hotelworkersunited.org or by contacting Local 25 @ 202-737-2225
What are the "dignity and respect" issues?
John A. Boardman: If I might answer both #50 & 51 at the same time...
Economic issues are always important to work families that live from paycheck to paycheck. This is certainly true in this negotiations as well. But our members have said that their dignity is not for sale. It does not serve their interest to increase their remuneration and be treated without respect and to be abused and over worked. That is why you have consistently seen statements from our members demand that management address those issues.
To give you an example of what that means. The Union had a proposal that when a worker is on "unpaid" lunch time that management not be allowed to disturb or harass them (recognizing of course that sometime emergencies exist which require immediate attention). Management refused to agree to this most basic right: to be left alone when we're not on their payroll. Other issues are more complex but involve the same principle.
If employees are being treated abusively, as you say, by the big hotel chains, what kinds of contract provisions can be negotiated to protect them. Aren't those kinds of protections already in your contracts?
John A. Boardman: There are a number of provisions that can address these types of issues. I noted a moment ago in a response that we are looking for meal periods (which are not paid time) to be free from interruption by management. We have asked that that management agree to a methodology regarding negotiations over changes in our workloads. We have asked for provision that penalties and interest apply if an employer is found to have "willfully" engaged in nonpayment of wages and benefits. We've also asked for a streamline grievance and arbitration procedure so that should the parties disagree then workers do not have to wait lengthy periods to have their day in court.
We think that reasonable employers would have no reason to fear these proposals. Management has not agreed to any of them.
Mr. Boardman, I have met you before and used to work in a Union hotel in the city. As a person who cares very much about the employees (I consider them my family), I question some of the tactics you are using to force employees into a strike situation. Health care covered, yes, wage increase, yes, two versus three years, no. You expect hard working union members to fight your cause of two year contract. Where is the dignity and respect in that?
John A. Boardman: I would disagree with your statement for three reasons. First,our members have been personally involved in these negotiations. I made a decision as the chief elected officer of Local 25 that the negotiations were going to be an open process and that members should be permitted to attend the sessions if they so choose. Management, by the way, objected to this and cancelled several sessions before they returned to the table with our members present. As a result of my decision, more than 1,900 members have been present to witness the negotiations - many attending multiple sessions. They are aware of the issues and have seen management stonewalling at the table.
Secondly, our members voted overwhelmingly by secret ballot to authorize a strike. More than 1,100 showed up yesterday for picket training.
Lastly, management walked out on the negotiations Wednesday - not the Union.
From what I have heard the hotel workers in DC saying to reporters in the news, it sound's like the only thing they are complaining about is having to do work. Obviously the cost of living in this area is such that they might need more pay than in other places, but nevertheless, hotel work doesn't exactly constitute white collar work. I used to work room service at a hotel in VA where no one was unionized and no one seemed to complain, beyond everyday complaints of working.
John A. Boardman: I think this is a grossly unfair and demeaning statement. The Washington Post did an excellent article on the underpinnings of this issue months ago. The hotels are back to record levels. Staffing in the hotels is not. That has translated into management harrassment and increased workload. Those are the facts. These worker show up every day and provide professional service to guests in a very profitable industry. To characterize their demands as "not wanting to work" is an insult and I resent it.
Thank you for agreeing to do this chat. Why not use a mediator of some kind? Will there still be a work stoppage if there is still conversations/negotiations going on?
John A. Boardman: I'm sorry that I do not type faster. You have all been asking great questions and I will endeavor to peck on...
There is now a mediator involve in all three of the cities including Washington. He is the chairman of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. Our national leaders met with him on Wednesday just prior to management walking out of the negotiations.
If the big hotel chains treat employees so abusively, how is it they are able to operate and serve millions of guests daily in largely non-union environments? One chain, Marriott, for example, is less than 1% unionized. Since Federal law guarantees employees' rights to organize, and large companies consistently inflict "abuse" on their people, why aren't more hotels afforded the "protection" of labor unions?
John A. Boardman: As most observers of unions know, organizing in non-union settings is extraordinarily difficult. It is interesting that you mention Marriott. When workers in San Francisco tried to organize a large Marriott hotel there it took the over 19 years of struggle with Marriott committing unprecedented numbers of violations of labor law.
What provisions are being made to support the workers who may be going without a paycheck for some time in the event of a strike?
John A. Boardman: As some may have gleaned from press reports, our union is now merged in a new, larger, more powerful national union - UNITE HERE. We are are well staff and extremely well financed our our effort to get our issues addressed.
Additionally, hotel workers have many allies in our communities and across the nation. As an example, the NAACP and La Raza both came out yesterday and pledge the support of those two national organizations in the fight by hotel workers in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington, DC.
You keep using vague terms like dignity, respect and abuse to bolster your claims. Can you offer any specific examples of each?
How exactly have the workers been abused?
John A. Boardman: With respect to #66,77 I think if you scroll through my previous responses I've tried to cover this ground.
John A. Boardman: I would like to thank everyone for allowing us the opportunity to answer question. I'm sorry that I do not have more time to answer any more. I want to express on behalf of our members and those in Los Angeles and San Francisco our appreciation for the support and encouragement that we have received thus far. We ask for your continued support as hotel workers continue in their effort to make hospitality jobs good middle-class jobs that support families.
Hotel & Restaurant Employees, Local 25
John A. Boardman: For more information please see:
Affected Hotels Listings: www.hoteladvisor.info
For worker information: www.hotelworkersunited.org