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Old Labor Tactics Resurface in New Union

Unite Here Involves Younger People, Has History of Not Backing Down

By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 17, 2004; Page E01

Labor experts say Unite Here, the newly merged union that is representing the D.C. hotel workers in their current contract dispute, is one of the most outspoken and toughest unions under the AFL-CIO umbrella.

One example: Unite, which represented textile workers before its merger, took an unusual tack in negotiations on behalf of airline laundry workers with Royal Airline Laundry Services. The union found workers who said they were being asked to increase productivity by repackaging used blankets and headphones without laundering them first.

Workers pack into the Masonic Temple for a meeting of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union Local 25. (Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)

_____Live Discussion_____
Today, 12:30 p.m. ET John A. Boardman, executive secretary-treasurer of Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union Local 25 Washington, will answer your questions.
Union, D.C. Hotels Prepare For Strike (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

So Unite's president, Bruce S. Raynor, started a campaign in late 2000 in which air passengers were given a test tube and swab to find out whether bacteria was crawling on the blankets they cuddled with in their window seats.

Airlines called Royal and begged officials to settle with the union, recalled Kate L. Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell University. What followed, she said, was a contract that provided workers with more pay and better working conditions. "They are creative, aggressive, and willing to do what it takes," Bronfenbrenner said.

Some of that same attitude is on display in Washington this week as Unite, which merged this summer with the hotel workers' union, called Here, presses for a new contract for local hotel workers.

Besides finding resourceful ways to get members' issues heard, Unite Here is adept at involving college students and recent graduates -- an enthusiastic population rarely tapped by the union world -- who are eager to help organize immigrant and low-wage workers. Both unions also have a history of not backing down.

In other words, what is old is new again.

"They remind people like myself of the kind of full-throttle organizing that was in the '30s and '40s," said Robert A. Bruno, associate professor of labor and industrial relations at the University of Illinois.

But organizing in the 21st century has not been easy. Union membership has been on the decline for years as manufacturing jobs disappeared and the economy changed toward a more white-collar environment. In 2001, Unite had 207,000 members, while Here had 241,000. The combined group now claims 440,000 members . Labor union membership as a whole dropped to 16 million in 2002 -- 13 percent of the workforce.

Unions have suffered, said Charles B. Craver, labor law professor at George Washington University and author of the book "Can Unions Survive?" "If the AFL-CIO can't organize big service companies, they're dead."

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