|By Donna De Marco, The Washington Times|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Sep. 16, 2004 - Hotel workers at 14 D.C. hotels are preparing to strike after talks over a new contract broke down last night. Union officials said hotel management walked out of contract negotiations, saying progress was not being made.
"The talks are done," said John Boardman, executive secretary-treasurer of Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union Local 25. "Our response is to prepare and execute a strike."
Union officials say the strike will close some of the city's biggest hotels, including the Hilton Washington & Towers, Marriott Wardman Park, the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel and the Hyatt Regency Washington.
But hotel officials say the properties will stay open.
"The hotels will remain open for business," said Frank Otero, chairman of the Hotel Association of Washington, D.C. "We have taken the appropriate action to continue to operate our hotels and meet the needs of our guests."
D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who has not become directly involved in negotiations, said city officials would get the two sides together if necessary. Sharon Gang, a spokeswoman for the mayor, said it was likely that City Administrator Robert C. Bobb would facilitate talks today.
Union officials will meet with hotel workers today to discuss strike logistics. A decision on when the strike will begin will be made within the next day or two, Mr. Boardman said.
Hotel officials and the union representing 3,500 Washington hotel workers had met again yesterday, hoping to avert a strike when the union's contract expired at midnight.
"It became clear at around 4 p.m. that the union was not going to negotiate in good faith over wages and benefits and that a deal could not be reached," Mr. Otero said. "We stand ready to return to the bargaining table anytime the union is ready to have productive negotiations that will result in a new contract for our employees."
Local 25, which represents workers from housekeepers and bartenders to bellmen and line cooks, as well as local unions in Los Angeles and San Francisco, authorized a strike in each of their cities earlier this week.
Union officials were negotiating for the usual issues of wages, pension, health care and workload, but they also are fighting to get a contract that expires in 2006, the same time as the contracts of hotel workers in several other major cities.
That expiration date would give the unions more leverage when bargaining with the major hotel chains such as Marriott International, Hilton Hotels, Starwood Hotels & Resorts and Hyatt Hotels & Resorts, which dominate the industry, they say.
"The issue for the union is not a good contract for Washington's workers but rather a two-year contract for Washington D.C., Los Angeles and San Francisco to make the union more powerful," Mr. Otero said. "This is unfortunate. A two-year contract will not benefit our employees or our business in Washington, D.C."
Hotel officials say their proposed contract includes increased wages, an improved pension and free health insurance coverage. They also say a three-year contract is best for employees and the local industry.
Dozens of workers from hotels in North America, including 91-year-old Cyprian Tilghman, who retired from the District's Harrington Hotel in 1979, gathered yesterday at the Madison Hotel to show a united front.
"I'm here to continue to show support for the workers in these hotels," said Mr. Tilghman, who has been with the union for 62 years.
"No one in the hotel industry should underestimate the resolve of the thousands of hotel workers who are standing together for the first time," said Bruce Raynor, general president of Unite Here, Local 25's parent, at the press conference yesterday.
Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, spoke at the press conference and vowed to lend his organization's support to the workers.
"If hotels had any common sense, they'd recognize this is not a fight they want," Mr. Mfume said. "They can't win the battle."
This article is based in part on wire service reports.
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