Hotel workers fight for card check

By Jeffrey Boyette

SAN FRANCISCO--Several hundred people joined UNITE HERE Local 2 for a rally and march on February 24 to kick off a boycott of two luxury hotels that are resisting workers' efforts to unionize.

Management at both the Hyatt Fisherman's Wharf and Le Meridien Hotel, owned by HEI Hotels and Resorts, rejected the workers' decision to join UNITE HERE Local 2 through employee card check. The card check process, which requires a majority of workers to sign a union card, has already been used in most other hotels in San Francisco and has been adopted by several hotel chains, including the Hyatt Corp., as the means for organizing unions future hotels.

Nonetheless, management refuses to acknowledge petitions showing majority support for card check among the workforce at both hotels.

Meanwhile, workers have been left in fear of layoffs, dwindling benefits and unstable wages as the economy drifts deeper into recession. As Nancy Li, a waitress at Hyatt Fisherman's Wharf, explained in an interview, "We work long, hard hours. Many people in our industry work two jobs or more--we often work back-to-back shifts--all just to make ends meet."

Even in the current recession, both Hyatt and HEI Hotels have made plans to expand this year, with HEI announcing it intention to spend $1.5 billion on new luxury properties in the coming months.

The rally in San Francisco sent a clear message that Local 2 and the workers at Hyatt Fisherman's Wharf and Le Meridien don't intend to let management continue to obstruct their right to unionize any longer.

The rally began at Justin Herman Plaza and then launched into a spirited march through the Financial District, circling two other Hyatt Corporation hotels before stopping in front of Le Meridien, where marchers chanted "Boycott Meridien Hotel" and danced in step with an accompanying brass band.

Many in the crowd felt confident that the boycott would be successful. According to Lilian Tantosubroto, who has been a Local 2 member at the Luxe Inn at Union Square for seven years, "Any hotel will resist a union, but in the long run, it's what the employees want, and management will eventually have to cave in."

As the boycott began, dozens of organizations had already declared support for the workers, including the Bay Area Immigrant Rights Coalition, the Harvey Milk Club of the San Francisco Democratic Party, La Raza Centro Legal, the Interfaith Coalition on Immigrants Rights, Iraq Veterans Against the War and many others.

During the rally, several of these organizations showed their support for the boycott by pledging tens of thousands of dollars each that would otherwise go to one of the hotels. All together, the pledge totaled over a quarter million dollars in lost business.

Local 2 has successfully organized 89 percent of hotels in San Francisco. The card check process that they are attempting to use to organize Le Meridien and Hyatt at Fisherman's Wharf is one of the main components of pending legislation known as the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would make it considerably harder for management to resist unionization. The hotel workers' fight in San Francisco shows that EFCA is not only necessary to help defend workers' rights, but is wanted by many workers.

For many workers, however, the right to unionize is only the first step in the struggle for a decent standard of living. Cynthia Reed who has worked at the Hyatt Regency for 20 years, knows that even union workers have their hands full in a cut-throat economy. As she said,

Right now, union workers are finding themselves being bought out. Some people are being laid off from work--they give them severance pay, but then they hire younger workers and newer workers at less wages. Are we going to get back to where we were before, or are we going to continue to lose salaries and wages? That's the main question.