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On the picket line

March 11, 2005 | Page 11

San Francisco hotel workers
By Adrienne Johnstone

SAN FRANCISCO--About 50 union members and supporters rallied at the San Francisco Hilton March 7 to support a boycott of 14 hotels called by UNITE HERE Local 2.

The union set up a phone bank to call conference organizers and urge them to move events elsewhere until the hotels settle the six-month-old contract dispute that led to a strike and lockout last year. In February, some 2,200 historians and some 1,000 attendees of a mayors' conference on economic development moved their events to other cities to avoid Local 2 picket lines. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom also continues to boycott the hotels, which are represented by the Multi-Employer Group (MEG).

A 60-day cooling-off period expired January 23, but there's been little movement toward a settlement.

A main demand of Local 2 has been a contract that expires in 2006 in order to provide a common expiration date for UNITE HERE hotel workers in a number of U.S. cities. However, proposals offered by the union for three- and four-year contracts have been rejected by the MEG. Local 2 President Mike Casey stated, "When [the employers] reach the conclusion that the cost of fighting exceeds the cost of settlement, that's when we will settle."

Based on data collected by Smith Travel Research, Local 2 estimates that the hotels lost at least $25 million during the strike and lockout. The union appears to have a long-term strategy to wait it out and chip away at convention business. However, the MEG pockets are very deep. Citicorp estimates that combined profits for Marriott, Starwood and Hilton alone will be $1.4 billion in 2005--but MEG keeps demanding concessions and has threatened a second lockout.

A more visible and aggressive strategy, involving hotel workers themselves, will be needed to win a decent contract for Local 2 workers.

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NEW YORK--Long-time union reform and antiwar activist Brenda Stokely was reinstated as president of AFSCME District Council (DC) 1707 following a judge's order March 3.

Stokely was removed from office weeks earlier, after DC 1707 Executive Director Raglan George charged that she was an employee of the council and therefore ineligible to hold union office. In fact, Stokely received a union stipend after being laid off, according to AFSCME's own procedure.

The background to Stokely's removal is George's efforts to consolidate control over DC 1707 and union officials' eagerness to silence her for her outspoken opposition to the war in Iraq and her advocacy of union democracy. However, two other DC 1707 officials who were removed with Stokely--Gloria Jackson and Chuck Mohan--remain unemployed, and the DC 1707 Members First Coalition plans to keep organizing for their reinstatement.

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