Union pickets Madison Hotel after change in ownership

By Danielle Douglas
Monday, February 7, 2011

Dozens of protesters picketed outside the Madison Hotel in the District last week, accusing the new management company, Destination Hotels & Resorts, of firing employees without warning and refusing to honor the existing labor agreement.

The protest came weeks after Atlanta-based Jamestown Properties snagged the iconic 353-room property on Jan. 19 and replaced operator Loews Hotels. Workers began picketing the site last Monday after talks between the union, Local 25, and Destination broke down. According to Local 25, the new management let go 27 employees, many of whom worked in the now-closed restaurant, Palette. What's more, a number of the housekeepers have allegedly had their room quotas increased from 14 to 16.

With the change of hands, Destination, a subsidiary of Lowe Enterprises, was under no legal obligation to abide by the terms of the contract negotiated by the outgoing manager.

"We're simply asking them to maintain the status quo," said John Boardman, head of Local 25 of the national union Unite Here.

Destination declined to comment on the specifics of the dispute. In a statement, the company said it has been "engaged in discussions with Local 25, in good faith" and was looking "forward to completing this process as soon as possible."

Boardman acknowledged that the two sides are scheduled to meet this week.

The dispute at the Madison is starting to cost the hotel business, as the National Education Association has canceled two weeks worth of bookings at a value of $350,000.

"We have a policy against crossing picket lines," said NEA spokesman Andrew Linebaugh. Several other labor organizations, including the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and National Football League Players Association, have joined in boycotting the property.

Victor Joya worked as a bartender in the Madison's restaurant for four years before Jan. 19. On that day -- the official close of the sale -- he said he showed up for work, changed into his uniform and headed upstairs only to learn that the restaurant-bar had been closed.

Jamestown shut down Palette and the PostScript lounge for renovations that are scheduled to get underway in the next few weeks, as part of the hotel's $20 million facelift.

"They could have given us notice," Joya said. "We showed up to work and were given three choices: Go for unemployment, go look for another job or re-apply."

Joya said he showed up for three separate interviews at the Madison, each time receiving the same response: "We'll call you."

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