|By Mary Anne Ostrom, San Jose Mercury News, Calif.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Feb. 19, 2005 - As San Francisco's hotel labor strife drags on into its seventh month, San Jose is convention hunting.
And they've snagged one. The Organization of American Historians and its 2,000 participants are canceling their San Francisco Hilton affair and moving it to San Jose in late March. Although it is considered a small convention, it could mean as much as $2 million in business for the city.
"We're not being shy," said Dan Fenton, president and chief executive of San Jose Convention & Visitors Bureau. Fenton added that he tells conventioneers in his pitch that San Jose is labor-friendly.
After their contract at 14 union hotels expired in August and talks broke down with the employers, the workers went on strike at four San Francisco hotels in late September. The owners quickly responded by locking workers out of all 14.
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom helped negotiate a 60-day cooling-off period around the holidays, and the workers returned. That period expired in mid-January and there has not been much progress. Hotel workers remain on the job.
This week, Unite Here Local 2, which represents 4,300 employees at 14 of San Francisco's largest hotels, began one-day pickets at selected hotels.
San Jose union officials have been working with their San Francisco colleagues to help identify conventions and meetings in San Francisco hotels where union contracts have expired, said Fenton. And then, Fenton's bureau contacts those conventioneers, asking if they'd like to try San Jose.
With the hockey season apparently canceled, Fenton said every little bit helps.
Fenton said his convention and visitors bureau knew the historians had to pay a cancellation fee to the San Francisco Hilton, and that some of its members had already booked their flights to San Francisco International. To entice them, Fenton said the cost structure took into account the hotel cancellation fee, but his group did not pay the penalty directly.
Fenton's bureau is also providing shuttle service from San Francisco International for those who cannot change their flights.
Mike Casey, who leads the Unite Here employee group, said, "We're definitely calling conventions and telling them to get out of the union hotels, but not San Francisco."
Casey warned the historians they could expect to cross a picket line if they stayed at the Hilton.
In San Jose, conventioneers will stay predominantly at the San Jose Hyatt and Doubletree hotels for their meeting, which runs from March 31 to April 3.
A spokesman for the San Francisco hotel employer group, which includes the San Francisco Hilton, declined comment. He would say only that the owners are hoping to have a contract soon.
But John Marks, president of the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau, said he is somewhat concerned about San Jose's tactics, particularly if they involve paying the group's cancellation penalty.
"At what point do you meet the ethical question of trying to become a predator, trying to prey on someone else's business? I have a little bit of concern about that," said Marks. "It is a fine line."
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