|By Diane E. Lewis, The Boston Globe|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Oct. 21, 2004 - They clean hotel rooms, tend bars, cook meals, and wait tables at many of Boston's prestigious hotels and universities, an army of mostly immigrant and low-wage workers that labors behind the scenes.
But yesterday, after learning that 4,000 hotel workers in San Francisco are locked out of jobs at 14 hotels, about 85 members of this largely hidden workforce walked into the sedate lobby of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Downtown Crossing and, seated on the floor, demonstrated until police officers arrived and arrested six protesters on trespassing charges.
Outside, the demonstration continued as the protesters filed out of the elevators, chanting, "No Justice in San Francisco, no peace in Boston."
"I will fight here with pleasure," said Sebastiana Montero, a 56-year-old housekeeper at The Lenox Hotel. Montero, a member of Hotel Workers Local 26, marched in front of the hotel as a show of support for a sister union in San Francisco.
"It is not fair what they are doing to the workers in San Francisco," said Montero, who has worked at the Lenox for 29 years. "They have children; they have to support their families."
In late September, 1,400 unionized hotel workers in San Francisco went on strike at four hotels after owners refused to meet their demands for a two-year contract and better healthcare. In retaliation, the hotels barred the workers from coming back to work. Days later, 10 additional San Francisco hotels locked out 2,600 more workers.
Unlike most labor disputes, wages and working conditions are not the main issues in San Francisco. Instead, hotel owners have come to realize the union has negotiated an expiration date of 2006 in major markets such as Boston, New York, Toronto, Chicago, Sacramento and Honolulu. They fear the union will gain more clout at the bargaining table if contract talks are coordinated nationwide.
Like the Service Employees International Union, whose red-shirted janitors walked off jobs at Boston's big buildings downtown two years ago, the workers are seeking greater leverage during talks and more security.
"The hotel industry, like many others in the country, has become an industry of multinationals," said Robert Reich, former labor secretary under President Clinton and a professor of social and economic policy at Brandeis University.
In an open letter to workers, the San Francisco Multi-Employer Group, a coalition of hotel owners, said the union knew the hotels would lock out all union members in the event of a strike. A spokesman for the employers said yesterday they are concerned the union is planning a nationwide strike in 2006.
"The San Francisco hotels are willing to negotiate on everything, including the length of the contract," said the spokesman, Cornell Fowler. "We are not stuck on five years. But the union is stuck on two years. We are simply looking for some middle ground."
Fowler said a short contract does not allow the hotel industry to plan sufficiently for events
John Wilhelm, national president of the hotel workers union known as Unite Here, said yesterday the union is not seeking pattern bargaining, but wants to better coordinate talks. He maintains issues like the rising cost of healthcare are national issues and cannot be solved locally. At the same time, Wilhelm said the union will continue to support local bargaining for wages because pay rates in cities vary widely.
"The hotel owners believe that they should, at all costs, resist anything that might increase the strength of our union and the strength of our hotels," he said.
On the picket line yesterday, Brian Lang, a union organizer for the 5,800-member Hotel Workers Union Local 26 said shifting to a two-year contract makes sense because local unions are not able to meet with the real leaders of the industry because they are based in other major cities.
Several minutes later, six union members were arrested and charged with trespassing after they refused to leave the hotel lobby. Among those arrested were: Janice Loux, president of the union; Henry Green, secretary treasurer and financial secretary; Louise Anderson, a business agent and organizer; and Jody Payne of Brockton, an employee at the Boston Sheraton Hotel. Union officials identified two others arrested as Dermot Doyne, a bartender who floats between different hotels, and Honey Tracey, an employee at the Copley Plaza Hotel.
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