Negotiations over a new contract for D.C. hotel workers broke off early yesterday as the union and representatives of 14 major hotels reported little progress in resolving the impasse between them.
Monday's brief bargaining session was marked by a failed effort to bring in a federal mediator, and by the increased prominence in the talks of an official from the national hotel workers union.
Bruce S. Raynor, president of the national Unite Here union, acted as lead negotiator for Local 25 yesterday, demonstrating the degree to which the union views the negotiations in Washington as part of a national battle to increase labor's leverage against nationwide hotel chains. Similar battles are underway in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and Unite Here is coordinating action in the three cities.
The Washington negotiations are now on hold for a week with a strike still threatened.
The hotels have asked for weeks that a federal mediator be brought in. Unite Here Local 25, which represents 3,800 hotel employees in the current talks, invited a mediator to Monday's session, but then quickly adjourned the meeting and said it would not at this point agree to mediation.
Monday's meeting started at 10:30 a.m., and union officials decided to call it a day before 1 p.m. Hotel negotiators had planned for the talks to continue all day. By all accounts, there was no productive bargaining. The two sides ran through the list of outstanding issues with neither offering compromises.
"We really made no progress today," said Peter Chatilovicz, a lawyer representing the hotels. "I'm a little disappointed."
"There was very little progress made," Raynor said. Union officials, as they have since the contract covering hotel workers expired Sept. 15, said members may strike if they do not get their way. Raynor did not say if or when such an action might occur.
"We'll just have to wait and see," he said yesterday. As for what will come next from the union, he added, "We're going to try to be more persuasive."
The treatment of hotel workers is one of the major issues on the table. The union argues that its members are overworked and often treated badly by their bosses, and that they want stronger protections in a contract. The hotels say the union overstates the problems and that they would best be dealt with hotel by hotel.
Moreover, the union seeks a two-year contract, as opposed to the three-year deal that the hotels insist on. A shorter contract would expire the same year as hotel contracts in other major cities, potentially giving the union more leverage to negotiate nationwide.
The two sides also have significant differences on wages and benefits. For example, currently a hotel employee who works 30 years receives a $500-a-month pension after retiring; the union seeks to double that amount.