Dennis Donohue, a dapper gentleman with a full moustache, normally oversees 47 bellhops, elevator operators and doormen at the 1,200-room Helmsley Palace, the crown jewel in the luxury hotel chain run by its self-proclaimed queen, Leona Helmsley.
But this week, during New York City's first hotel strike in 46 years, this superintendent of services, his name and title engraved on a brass name tag on his lapel, stood in front of the palace, hailing taxis and hauling luggage.
Angry strikers at the hotel's entrance heckled Donohue and hollered at taxi drivers who stopped to pick up fares. The usually immaculate sidewalks were covered with shredded newspaper, squashed paper cups, garbage and uprooted geraniums.
Surveying the scene apprehensively after waiting 10 minutes for a cab, a gray-haired matron gingerly tapped Donohue on the shoulder. "Are taxis avoiding this street because of the strike?" she whispered.
"No, madam," Donohue replied patiently. "It's just rush hour."
Threatening to disrupt tourism here at the beginning of the $2 billion industry's peak season, the strike at 54 of New York's most fashionable hotels by more than 16,000 hotel workers has inconvenienced thousands of visitors and meant double duty for hundreds of management employes who, like Donohue, have taken over strikers' jobs.
In many hotels restaurants are closed and room service is curtailed. But at most of the struck establishments, including the Waldorf Astoria and the Plaza, it is business more or less as usual.
At the 497-room Regency Hotel on Park Avenue, usually staffed by 250 workers, 70 management employes have been making beds, carrying laundry, fixing meals, answering phones.
"I've been doing a little of everything -- waiting on tables, sweeping floors, carrying bags, setting up banquets, even a few weddings," said Michael Ullman, the Regency's managing director. "I'm prepared to keep going as long as I have to."
Albert A. Formicola, president of the Hotel Association of New York, which represents 82 city hotels, said at least 4,500 temporary nonunion workers, many of them vacationing college students, have been hired. Some hotels have brought in employes from their outlets in other cities.
While life inside the hotels may be quieter than usual, the scene outside is noisier: Crowds of boisterous pickets taunt guests, replacement workers and taxi drivers. "Don't go in there lady, you're crossing a picket line. You'll be sorry," one striker yelled to a woman scampering into the Plaza.
Each midday since the strike began last Saturday, throngs of more than 1,000 pickets shouting "No contract, no work" have snaked through midtown Manhattan streets, escorted from hotel to hotel by mounted police and tangling traffic along the way.
Their gripe is money. Vito Pitta, the president of the nine-union Hotel and Motel Trades Council, which represents 25,000 workers at 165 hotels, is demanding a 6.5 percent raise for each year of a four year contract, 2.5 percent less than the original request. Workers earn an average of $315 a week.
Management, represented by the Hotel Association of New York, has increased its initial offer from 4 to 4.5 percent in the first year with a weekly raise of $14.50 in each succeeding year of a five-year contract. "We work very hard," said Margarita Stuark, a 16-year employe of the Sheraton Centre. "They make millions of dollars, and all we are asking for is a little more money."
While the strike has generally been orderly, two pickets have been stabbed by two unidentified men believed to have been applying for jobs at the Sheraton Centre. Police have assigned 4,053 officers to special duty at a cost of more than $800,000 and say they have arrested 26 strikers. The union claims that more than 35 have been taken into custody.
At the hotels' expense, city sanitation trucks have been sent for emergency pickups at the Waldorf Astoria and 19 other hotels declared public health hazards by city officials after private garbage collectors refused to cross picket lines. More than 50 strikers blocked a city garbage truck Wednesday at the Pierre Hotel near Central Park. The sanitation department, which has asked for police protection, has picked up 108 tons of hotel garbage since Saturday at a cost to the hotels of $10,571. Some of the sanitation workers are Teamsters and are able to cross the lines because of a city health ordinance.
Like the hotels' management, most visitors appear to be taking the inconveniences good naturedly, and some are even amused.
"It's no problem," said German tourist Fritz Gearheart, lugging four bags from the curb to the entrance of the Hilton Hotel. "There are more problems in the world than having to carry a few suitcases." A Japanese tourist photographed strikers, while Bob Teunissen and his family, from San Bernardino, Calif., stood on the rim of a fountain for a better look. "It adds to the excitement," Teunissen laughed. "It's a good stage show we didn't even have to pay for."