The prospect of a strike by 6,000 housekeepers, waiters and other workers at some of the West Coast's landmark hotels loomed larger Thursday as negotiations for a new contract foundered.
Members of the hotel workers union chapters in San Francisco and Los Angeles on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike at several properties, including some high-profile establishments. Hotels that stand to be affected include the InterContinental Mark Hopkins and Fairmont San Francisco at the top of famous Nob Hill and the Regent Beverly Wilshire, a luxury hotel near Hollywood where Julia Roberts's "Pretty Woman" was filmed.
No date for a job action has been set. A strike would deal a significant blow to the region's tourism industry, which only recently had begun to recover from many Americans' fears of travel following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The votes authorizing strikes in California followed similar action by union officials in the District. The three local chapters have been in regular communication with one another regarding their progress, and negotiators worry how one union's actions will affect the others.
In San Francisco, management and the union have fought for the past two months over issues such as wage increases, health care benefits and pensions, but it wasn't until earlier this week -- when the length of the contract was discussed -- that negotiations broke off. The unions want a two-year contact. The companies are pushing for a six-year agreement but have said they are open to discussing other terms. A two-year contract would end in 2006, coinciding with the expiration of those in seven other areas, which could allow the unions to coordinate with each other and leverage their collective bargaining power.
Barbara French, a spokeswoman for the Multi-Employer Group, which represents the 14 hotels in San Francisco that employ the union workers, said a strike is not necessarily imminent. Both sides have expressed an interest in keeping discussions open, she said.
"Progress has been made," French said, adding that the companies remain dedicated to working out an agreement. Mike Casey, president of Local 2 of Unite Here, said the union's leadership is scheduled to meet Friday to further discuss the employers' proposal and how to proceed.
Other sticking points in San Francisco have been immigrant rights, the treatment of subcontract employees and salaries. The average wage for a non-tipped employee is $15.79 an hour, for tipped employees $11.65 an hour. The companies have offered annual raises of 5 cents per hour for tipped employees and 20 cents per hour for non-tipped workers for the life of the contract -- an amount Casey has dismissed as "an insult." He said raises in the past have been from 35 to 75 cents.
Less progress has been made in Los Angeles, where Unite Here Local 11 has filed a lawsuit against Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. alleging that workers were not being allowed to take rest breaks. The city's Wilshire Grand Hotel, meanwhile, is blocking its laundry workers from coming to work in a separate labor dispute.
The laundry workers are not part of the union threatening to strike, but the union said management is trying to intimidate it by targeting them. The Los Angeles hotels have said they would bind together and stage an "offensive lockout" -- preventing workers from doing their jobs, and docking their pay as a result -- if the union were to go on strike at even one hotel.
"It's an attempt to provoke" the workers into taking action prematurely, said David Koff, a spokesman for the union's national office.