Hilton workers rally for union

May 16, 2012

BEATING DRUMS, banging pots and pans, and chanting in Spanish and English, some 100 hotel workers in bright red T-shirts and their supporters gathered for a picket in front of the Hilton Hotel in San Diego's Mission Valley to kick off a campaign for union recognition.

The hotel workers union, UNITE HERE Local 30, is backing the organizing drive. The Hilton workers on the picket line were joined by union members from other hotels in San Diego, along with supporters from the community, including Service Employees International Union (SEIU) members, the Interfaith Committee for Workers Justice and the International Socialist Organization.

The Hilton Mission Valley Hilton is owned by HEI Hotels and Resorts. It is one of seven HEI-owned hotels around the nation being targeted by UNITE HERE for union recognition. HEI is a $2 billion corporation with 41 hotels and over 5,000 workers across the U.S., according to the company website.

As Hilton worker Jorge Marengo explained:

We really are upset with all the problems here. I started working for $8 an hour. After six years--almost seven years--still the same. I work in the banquet department. When I started to work, we had around seven or eight guys at night. Now we are just two guys, and they overwork us a lot.

We have more overnight work [than] before, and now they expect more of us--and more and more and more. It's not right. We tried to look to organizing in [order] to get our rights. We understand it is difficult, but we try. We try to fight for this, because this is our right.

THE UNION is calling for card-check neutrality, which would allow workers to gain union recognition if a majority sign cards in favor of the union--making it more difficult for the company to run an anti-union campaign. Hotel management has so far refused to accept card-check neutrality.

According to Brigette Browning, president of UNITE HERE Local 30:

We're here because we are demanding organizing rights from this company…and we are going to be demonstrating until they give the workers a fair way to organize a union...a card-check neutrality agreement.

We are going to be doing various things to pressure this company, HEI, on a national level. There are seven other cities that are participating in this...and there is real momentum to be able to get organizing rights at this hotel. We will be here until we get a fair process for these workers to organize a union.

According to Local 30 organizer David Steel, while the union is fighting for a card-check agreement, HEI prefers to force an election. He explained:

If they trigger an election, there will be something like three months and then an election by secret ballot. And in those three months, experience tells us they will use illegal tactics, like firing workers, like dragging them off into closets and intimidating them, or trying to bribe them. So they will use every tactic in the book.

In the end, whether we win or lose, there will be lawsuits back and forth, It will get tied up in court, In fact, 14 years ago, the workers in this hotel tried to organize. That exact thing happened. We had enough cards to win the union, but it got tied up in court.

Then, immigration raided [the workforce], and by the time it all got out of court, enough of our people were gone who were [yes votes] that the original election...we barely lost it. But then it was found that [management] had done a bunch of illegal stuff. That original election got canceled, because the same workers weren't there any more.

Backing from other hotel workers, as well as community support, will be a key factor for the union to win its battle for recognition. As one union organizer said, Hilton workers "going out on picket in front of your hotel when you don't have a union to bolster their strength" makes support of hotel workers from other sites especially critical.

The picketers' chant said it well: "Unete, unete, a la lucha unite" (Join, join, join the struggle)."

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