Hotel workers fight for contracts

January 2, 2009

CONCORD, Calif.--Hotel workers in Contra Costa County are fighting attempts by the Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn Concord to curtail union standards, including increases in the cost of health care.

The UNITE HERE Local 2850 members have been working without a contract at the Holiday Inn since the end of April, and at the Crowne since the end of August. Management at both hotels is proposing major concessions that would essentially strip workers of benefits.

At the Holiday Inn, management's proposals would make it harder for employees to qualify for medical insurance, which could leave 20 percent of the workers ineligible. The hotel is also proposing raising family health insurance premiums from $40 to nearly $750 a month out of pocket.

Meanwhile, Crowne Plaza management wants to increase the room cleaners' workload from 16 rooms to 18 rooms a day. It has also proposed raising the employee share of family medical by eight times while also increasing the threshold for eligibility.

At the Holiday Inn, housekeepers and laundry workers earn $9.35 an hour while dishwashers earn $9.30 an hour. At the Crowne Plaza, room cleaners and laundry workers earn $8.60 an hour while the highest paid dishwashers earn $8.48 an hour

At the heart of the fight is the struggle is the future of hotel workers, union and non-union, in Contra Costa County. Of the seven major hotels in the county only three are unionized.

Compared to the rest of the Bay Area, the standards for these union workers are poor. Housekeepers make an average of $8.60 an hour at the Crowne and $9.35 at the Holiday Inn. At the Doubletree Hotel in Berkeley, housekeepers make an average wage of $14 an hour.

While UNITE HERE holds high standards for it memberships in the East Bay and San Francisco, the union is struggling to preserve standards that are only slightly higher than nonunion hotels in Contra Costa County.

There has been a steady campaign to scale back benefits since 2007. The Holiday Inn threatened to terminate workers who handed out leaflets to customers in front of the hotel, but backed off after the union filed unfair labor practices charges. Now, the Holiday Inn has suggested that they won't collect dues starting in January.

If the Crowne and Holiday Inn are successful in achieving their proposals to increase health care costs and workload, it will be a major defeat for hotel workers. It will mean that two hotels are "union" in name only and efforts improve the lives of workers in the county will have to start from scratch.

Last month, over 75 workers and their supporters marched in a special holiday march and picket, complete with a Christmas Grinch to call on the hotels. As negotiations continue, workers are fighting to get a fair contract that maintains benefits and manageable workloads.

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