[URBANTH-L]SF Chronicle: Hotel workers' lockout off for now

Debbie Boehm dboehm at ucsd.edu
Mon Nov 22 21:21:14 EST 2004

Hotel workers' lockout off for now
Employers, union OK 60-day cooling-off period; neighbors and merchants sure
to welcome quiet during busy holiday season

George Raine, Chronicle Staff Writer

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Thirty-eight raucous days of picket lines, tough talk and the angst of 4,300
San Francisco hotel workers locked out of their jobs with the holidays nigh
were put aside Saturday when negotiators for the hotels and the workers'
union agreed to a 60-day cooling-off period and ended, for now, the lockout.

It's only the completion of round one in a complex labor dispute, and
agreement has yet to be reached on the major issues that separate the
disparate sides. There could be more labor unrest in 60 days. Still, the
clangorous picket lines came down within a few hours of the announcement of
the accord, restoring relative peace downtown. Workers will be returning to
their jobs beginning with a shift Tuesday at 10 p.m. It can't happen sooner
because thousands of replacement workers must be transitioned out.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom announced the agreement in his office at 11
a.m., moments after negotiators for the employers and the workers union had
signed it.

"This is a good day in San Francisco, and it is a good day for San
Franciscans,'' Newsom said.

The lockout was hurting the city as well as the workers. Many luncheons and
other gatherings at the hotels were canceled because guests would not cross
picket lines. Among major cancellations was the American Anthropological
Association, which last month moved its meeting from the San Francisco
Hilton to Atlanta. Its 5,000-plus conferees would have spent $3,093,750 here
during their stay, by the calculation of the San Francisco Convention &
Visitors Bureau.

Linda Mjellem, executive director of the Union Square Association, said one
of her retail members, on the square for 17 years, had its worst October in
17 years. Another retailer was, year-over-year, 7 percent ahead of last year
prior to the labor dispute. In just four weeks' time, the owner has slipped
to 1 percent ahead.

In neighborhoods and downtown, neighbors said the noise of the picket lines
rang in their ears and made them miserable.

Unemployment, insurance covered

In accordance with the 60-day agreement, the union -- Unite Here Local 2 --
cannot strike, and the 14 San Francisco hotels involved cannot lock out
workers. Also, the employers agreed not to appeal a decision by the state
Employment Development Department that workers are eligible for unemployment
insurance, and a trust fund jointly managed by the employers and the union
will cover the workers' health care during the cooling-off period.

Earlier this week, three providers -- Kaiser Permanente, Chinese Community
Health Plan and PacifiCare -- said they would extend coverage to the 3,400
workers for two months. They acted after the employers had blocked an effort
by the union to withdraw $4.4 million from the trust fund shared by
management and the union. It was to provide coverage beginning Dec. 1 when,
lacking resolution, health benefits were scheduled to expire. The union
thanked the providers for their gesture, which now is not necessary.

The state's decisions regarding unemployment and health coverage were
critical elements in ending the lockout, but the president of Local 2, Mike
Casey, listed three others: the support of Newsom, in his tireless advocacy
of employees and in his disdain for the hotels' corporate management teams
that locked out workers with the holidays approaching; the loss of business
at the hotels; and union support in other cities.

"Ultimately, people made a business decision that this was no longer a smart
strategy on their part,'' Casey said. "That's what happened here.''

The employers' view is different. Matt Adams, vice president of the hotels'
contract bargaining unit, the Multi-Employer Group, as well as managing
director of the San Francisco Hyatt Regency, said significant movement had
been made on both sides during marathon negotiations Friday. This "created
an environment, a dynamic'' that led the employers to believe "that we can
reach agreement in the next 60 days.''

Thirty days ago, Newsom urged both sides to agree to a cooling-off period,
but Adams said his side then had lacked the confidence they have today that
settlement within two months was possible. "It was never our intent to have
our employees out,'' Adams said. "We wanted them at their jobs, and to be
able to work toward bargaining for a contract while they are on the job, I
think, is a win for everybody.''

Both sides praised Newsom for his participation in the dispute,
notwithstanding his advocacy for the workers. He called the lockout
heartless. The two sides issued a statement reading, "We look forward to
Mayor Newsom's continued role in assisting us in negotiations and thank the
City and County of San Francisco for its commitment to see this dispute

The two sides met from early morning until nearly midnight Friday at the
Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. During that time, both sides removed proposals
the other side objected to. The employers pulled the idea of random drug
testing, increasing work for room cleaners and a plan to limit paid time
off, while the union discarded the idea of adding to the bank of paid time
off and accelerating vacation accrual.

Concessions from both sides

All are peripheral issues, but removing them showed good faith on both
sides, Adams said. With them gone, the air was cleared to take on the major
issues: health care, in which the employers seek greater cost-sharing by the
workers; pensions; wages; the right to organize at other hotel properties;
and the term of the next contract. The hotels have proposed a five-year
pact, while the union prefers a two-year term that would put it in a
negotiating cycle with unions in other cities. Casey insisted contract
length remained on the table.

The settlement of the peripheral issues "laid the foundation for both sides
to say, 'OK, now is the time to get back to work and see if we can resolve
this,' '' Casey said. "And we're just delighted this can be done on a level
playing field with the lockout ended.''

Conventions were canceled, neighbors were harassed by endless harangues and
chanting on bullhorns, and businesses within shouting distance of picket
lines have lost money since the lockout began Oct. 13 -- triggered, as it
was, by a 2-week-long strike against four of the 14 hotels. It was something
akin to a grieving period for Ann Hurt, 61, a server at the Fairmont Hotel
for 26 years.

"In the beginning, you feel betrayed and hurt, and then you go to the anger
part and then to the point where you feel stronger,'' she said of her time
on the picket line. "Now I feel glad for everyone. I think we turned a big
corner. I'm very confident we are going to get the contract we want.''

Rory O'Connor, 41, a bellman at the Four Seasons, said, "Some days you came
to the line, and it was depressing. We had no inkling on Friday this was
going to happen. I think it was the benefits coming through. That was

The workers were beaming Saturday as the picket lines came down, and members
of many other unions started a boisterous march through downtown shouting
pro-labor slogans.

At the Argent Hotel, Rebecca Lacap, a room cleaner for 14 years, said,
"We're happy even though we don't have a contract yet. While we were here,
we've been eating outside all the time, every meal. And that's a lot of

Deborah A. Boehm
Guest Scholar
Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies
Center for Comparative Immigration Studies
University of California, San Diego
dboehm at ucsd.edu

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