Nearly 1,500 joyous members of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union Local 25 overwhelmingly ratified a new three-year contract yesterday that union officials said would cost major hotels here nearly $48 million while giving the average hotel worker a 32 percent increase in pay.
The atmosphere inside the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church at 15th and M streets NW was like Christmas in September when Local 25 executive secretary Ron Richardson revealed 31 contract changes. Foremost among them was an overall $60-a-week pay increase that will ultimately raise the average hotel worker's hourly pay $1.50, from $4.65 to $6.15.
Hotel workers cheered and applauded when Richardson announced the pay increase, which is between the union's original wage demand of $96 a week and the hotel owners' first offer of $11.
But the contract changes that brought those housekeepers, doormen, busboys, dishwashers, waiters and waitresses present to their feet and caused some to dance in the aisles of the sanctuary were what Richardson called dignity items:
Workers would be permitted to put their last name on employe name tags along with the titles Mr., Miss, Mrs. or Ms. rather than having guests call them by their first names.
The workers' paychecks would be given to them in envelopes or stapled in such a way that no one else could see how much they earn.
Housekeepers would be permitted to wear a sweater over their uniforms while cleaning rooms on cold days.
Such benefits, Richardson said, are important to Local 25 members, most of whom are paid less than $12,000 per year in salary, lack formal education in a white-collar town and largely are members of minority groups.
The contract change that brought the loudest response, besides the pay increase, was the union's demand that disciplinary write-ups be destroyed after 18 months. No longer, Richardson explained to an excited crowd, could supervisors keep critical write-ups hanging over employes' heads forever.
"That's just fantastic," gushed Ella Drayton, a housekeeper at the Hyatt Regency, after the meeting. "That change is just really fantastic."
Negotiations between the union and 24 members of the Hotel Association of Washington, which is expected to ratify the agreement at a meeting today, nearly collapsed several times during the 11 days of marathon talks, Richardson said.
One demand that nearly caused a strike, he said, was the union's request that employers help pay for family medical coverage for employes. "Only 3 percent of our members can afford to pay $61 per month for family protection," Richardson said. The new agreement has employers paying $21 of the fee the first year, $31 the second and $41 in 1984.
Compromises also were reached on arbitration procedures and seniority issues, said Richardson. "Now some manager can't let his pet go home if work slacks off," Richardson told the crowd. "He has to let the senior worker go first."
The union originally had asked for 75 changes, including a 35-hour work week and time-and-a-half pay on Sundays. Many such items were used as bargaining chips, Richardson claimed.
In other instances, the union obtained changes it had originally considered unlikely, he said. They included a day off on the anniversary of one's employment, additional employer contributions to a plan that pays legal fees for employes and an expansion of coverage under the union's dental insurance plan.
Saying the new contract helped raise the "standard of health and decency" of his union, Richardson quickly called for a ratification vote without waiting to answer questions from the crowd.
The members stomped their feet and screamed their approval. Only one person in the church raised his hand to vote in favor of a strike rather than ratification.