Officials of the local hotel union said yesterday that they may call a strike at 14 major D.C. hotels if they do not reach accord with management on a new contract by Jan. 15.
That raises the possibility of a work stoppage during the presidential inauguration, a period when tens of thousands of visitors flock to town and hotels are generally the busiest they are during any four-year span.
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The threat, by Unite Here Local 25, came at the same time participants reported progress in contract talks.
"If we don't have an agreement by the 15th, we will take action," said John A. Boardman, executive secretary-treasurer of Local 25. Asked what those actions might include, he said, "I don't want to limit our arsenal. A strike is part of the arsenal. We're telling our members to be strike-ready by the 15th."
Officials on both sides said there remains a strong possibility of a settlement, and such threats can be part of the bargaining strategy common in labor negotiations. Local 25 threatened an imminent strike in September, when the old contract expired, but took no action. Nonetheless, even the possibility worries some in the tourism industry.
"Clearly a strike is not what we want when all the eyes of the world are looking to see how hospitable we are as the nation's capital," said William A. Hanbury, president and chief executive of the Washington, DC Convention and Tourism Corp. "I'm hopeful that common sense prevails here with all sides so that Washington can present itself as a world-class destination when all the eyes of the country and the world will be upon it."
Hotel representatives say they are taking the threat seriously, promising to stay open during any strike or other stoppage by using managers and other replacement workers.
"We hope it won't happen," said Peter Chatilovicz, a lawyer representing the Hotel Association of Washington bargaining unit. "But we'll prepare accordingly and should there be a strike at one or more hotels, we're pretty comfortable that once our guests get there, we'll be able to take care of them."
Affected hotels include the Marriott Wardman Park and the Hilton Washington, the two largest hotels in town, both of which are scheduled to host inaugural balls. In total, the hotels involved in the contract negotiations account for about 27 percent of the city's 26,000 hotel rooms.
Boardman's threat came yesterday as the two sides had one of the most promising negotiations in months. Since the old contract expired Sept. 15, they have held intermittent, and generally unproductive, talks every few weeks. Yesterday, though, they reached accord on several issues involving how workers are treated.