Unionized workers at four large San Francisco hotels went on strike yesterday morning over issues similar to those causing an impasse between hotels and their workers at several large hotels in Washington.

Unite Here, the national hotel union, is also involved in contract disputes here and in Los Angeles. In all three cities, the union seeks better working conditions, protection of health benefits, and a contract that will expire the same year as hotel workers' pacts in New York and elsewhere.

About 1,200 workers at the Hilton San Francisco, Crowne Plaza Union Square, Argent Hotel and Mark Hopkins Intercontinental walked off the job yesterday beginning about 5 a.m. Pacific time and soon thereafter formed picket lines outside their workplaces. Union officials said the strike will last for two weeks, barring resolution. There was no work stoppage at the other 10 hotels involved in the negotiations there.

"I think one of the things that we're hoping to happen in the next few days is that the bosses realize how much value we have," Lesli Salmeron said by telephone. Salmeron is a houseman at the Hilton, meaning he cleans public areas of the hotel. "Any guest needs anything, we know what to do."

It was unclear what kind of impact the strike in San Francisco would have on the talks in Washington over a new contract between 3,800 local hotel workers and the 14 major hotels that employ them.

"This affects us not at all," said Peter Chatilovicz, a lawyer representing the D.C. hotels involved in negotiations. "We're going to go back to the table on Tuesday," he said, when continued negotiations with Unite Here Local 25 are scheduled.

"What the union will do in each of the other cities will be determined on a tactical basis," Bruce S. Raynor, president of Unite Here, said at a news conference yesterday. He continued to say that a strike or other work actions were among the union's options here, without giving specifics.

The contract expired Sept. 15, and since then the two sides have had only two negotiating sessions, neither of which offered signs of progress.

In the days immediately following the breakdown in negotiations, union representatives in Washington said a strike was imminent. Since then, the union has softened its language, although Raynor implied over the past week that the union would undertake some kind of action.

"If I had to guess, I would guess if they have a stoppage in San Francisco, it would slowly spread to L.A. and D.C.," said Charles B. Craver, a George Washington University professor of labor law. He said that in San Francisco, as a liberal and heavily unionized town, the strike may have more impact than one in which visitors and employees might be more inclined to cross picket lines. "Whenever you pick a target for a strike, you're hoping to pick a target with the most economic impact," Craver said.

Among hotel workers and managers in Washington, there was watching, waiting, and unease about the possibility of a work stoppage.

"I'm not ready to strike, but if I have to I will," said Nathanial Battle, a bellman at the Marriott Wardman Park for the last 34 years.

"If they say 'Strike,' I will follow the union in every way," said Willie L. Swinson, 71, a bell captain who has worked at the Wardman for 52 years. "I'm not nervous. I would just like to see it settled; then I know when I wake up, I have a job."

Ed Rudzinski, general manager of the Wardman Park, heard about the strike at 8:30 a.m. from his secretary, who had heard it from an employee who had a friend in San Francisco.

"San Francisco did a two-week strike," Rudzinski said to two of his top executives. "What does this mean? I don't know." He spent the morning in meetings strategizing for a possible strike, going over plans to bring in replacement workers if it were to happen.

The atmosphere at the hotel has changed since the contract expired two weeks ago. "There's not the same tenseness," he said. "The hotel is busy. Everyone's working." Security guards in black uniforms were checking guests' IDs before letting them in two weeks ago; yesterday, he had them end that practice.

"I don't think they're going to do anything. We're out of strike mode," Rudzinski said. "Either we sign or go on strike. Do something."

Staff writer Amy Joyce contributed to this report.

Unite Here President Bruce Raynor, left, and union official Peter Ward arrive at a news conference. Raynor said a strike is still an option for the union.John Boardman, the head of Local 25, and Marriott worker Charlene Rogers attended a news conference at Asbury Church downtown.