The D.C. Council is to vote tomorrow on a bill that would require the operators and developers of hotels that receive financing from the District to negotiate "peacefully" with workers and not force the workers to boycott or hold strikes that could hurt a hotel's profit.
The bill, being pushed by Local 25 of the Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees International Union in the District, would apply to a hotel that receives more than $100,000 in funding for construction from the D.C. government.
The council voted 10 to 3 in favor of the bill at its first reading Dec. 3. But the Hotel Association of Washington, D.C., and several other groups that represent contractors, builders and restaurateurs have been outspoken about the legislation, questioning the need for it and its legality.
According to leaders of Local 25, the bill is needed to protect workers and the District's money.
Typically, hotel workers who want to form a union or negotiate for better pay or benefits will strike, boycott or picket their hotel properties if management does not meet their demands. That can cause a hotel to lose money because it can interrupt travelers' schedules and often leaves the hotel with fewer workers to serve guests. In 1995, for example, workers at the Madison Hotel at 15th and M streets had a six-week lockout that caused the hotel's occupancy to drop, said John A. Boardman, executive secretary-treasurer of Local 25.
The bill would require workers and hotel owners and operators to resolve disagreements to stave off the chance that workers' actions might hurt profits and thereby put the District's investments at risk, supporters of the bill said.
"It is meant to protect the city's proprietary interest in a hotel and eliminate any possibility of a labor strife," Boardman said.
But those in opposition say the language of the bill cannot hide that it is a pro-union piece of legislation, not a measure to protect the city's investments in hotels. The District does not have a history of prolonged union fights, they point out. Some have questioned whether the bill violates federal labor laws because it "would require employers to recognize unions that have not been selected by a majority vote," according to lawyers for the D.C. hotel association.
"What I have a disagreement with is proposing a law that is in violation of federal labor laws," said council member David A. Catania (R-At Large), who voted against the proposed bill.
Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), who supports the bill, said: "We're at an investment risk in these deals. This law requires that the union not take any adverse economic action.
"This ensures that if there is a desire to organize it will be peaceful without affecting the city's investment," he said.
But opponents questioned why the District needs such a bill when the two largest hotel projects -- the Marriott convention center hotel near Mount Vernon Square and the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Southwest -- have already reached a "neutrality agreement." That agreement allows the union more access to workers, if they want to organize, and almost makes it certain that the properties will become unionized.
"The true purpose of this legislation is to promote unionization of all employers" on hotel projects, Reba Pittman Walker, president of the hotel association, told the council in written testimony.