|By James Temple, Contra Costa Times, Walnut Creek, Calif.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Oct. 27, 2004 - SAN FRANCISCO -- Mayor Gavin Newsom on Tuesday briefly joined around 100 workers picketing the Westin Saint Francis, after 14 hotels here refused to end a two-week lockout affecting 4,000 employees before the mayor's deadline.
"I won't let the corporate interests back East use San Francisco as a pawn," Newsom said at a rancorous press conference in front of the hotel, where he also reiterated a pledge to divert city business from the 14 hotels.
"Why would I agree to do business with 14 hotels that are hurting this city?" said the mayor, adding he had a list of businesses and conventions, critical components of the city's tourism industry, that have moved to other cities as a result of the lockout that began on Oct. 13.
The Multi-Employer Group, the bargaining group for the 14 hotels, defended their decision on Tuesday. "The solution is a contract agreement and an end to the union's insistence on a two-year deal," said Matthew Adams, vice president of the group, in a prepared statement. "Unfortunately, the Mayor's proposal for a cooling-off period did not address that issue."
Unite Here Local 2, the union representing the hotel workers, said they weren't surprised by the employers' decision.
"I think it's consistent with the harsh, callous behavior the hotel operators have been demonstrating for the past month," Local 2 spokeswoman Valerie Lapin said. "But they've taken this to a new level; they've attacked the city now."
She said Local 2 was pleased to have the mayor as an ally, but Newsom emphasized that he was on the union's side only insofar as he's against the lockout. Once the union and hotels are at the bargaining table, he wants both to negotiate in good faith, he said.
The members of the Local 2 voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike on Sept. 14, one month after their contract expired. On Sept. 29, workers at four major hotels launched a two-week strike. The 10 other hotels in the bargaining group locked out their workers two days later, in keeping with a compact the employers signed early in the process. All 14 hotels continued the lockout after the union's strike ended on Oct. 13.
That same day, Mayor Newsom called on both sides to agree to a 90-day cooling off period, during which the union would not strike, the employers would not lock out workers and both sides would negotiate with the assistance of a federal mediator. Local 2 agreed, but the employer group said they would only do so if the union withdrew its two-year contract demand. Local 2 declined.
Newsom stepped up the pressure this week, issuing a 48-hour deadline for a cooling-off agreement in a letter on Sunday.
The two sides have met several times with a federal mediator since the middle of the month.
Local 2 is calling for a two-year deal in order to align its contract expiration with seven other nationwide hotel contracts in 2006 and improve labor's position in those talks. Local 2 President Mike Casey has said the unions are following the lead of the employers, which have been consolidating their market share and, in turn, bargaining leverage for years.
The employers say they don't want to negotiate again in less than two years and have characterized the push for synchronized contracts as "an unlawful attempt to merge Local 2 into a broader national unit for bargaining without employer consent."
The other point of contention is health care. The employer's last offer before the strike would have made about 1,100 workers ineligible for health care coverage, and eventually raise the price of such coverage from $10 a month to as much as $273 for others, Casey said.
The employers have reportedly softened their positions in subsequent talks, but argue they must cut expenses in the face of plummeting revenue and skyrocketing health-care costs.
Mayor Newsom walked the picket line at the Westin St. Francis once on Tuesday, talking to workers along the way.
They carried signs that read, "St. Francis Locked Out!" and alternately chanted, "Whose jobs? Our jobs," and "Newsom." Carlos Molina, a 13-year Westin St. Francis employee told Mayor Newsom his wife has cancer and his health care insurance will soon run out.
"We'll get you back to work," Newsom promised.
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