|By Thomas C. Palmer Jr., The Boston Globe|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jun. 23, 2005 - Boston's local hotel workers union is calling for a boycott of the InterContinental Boston hotel and Residences at the InterContinental, the shiny, mirrored-glass building that is going up at 500 Atlantic Ave. and set to open next summer.
Janice Loux, president of the Boston Hotel & Restaurant Employees Union, Local 26, said this week that a disagreement over whether the new hotel will be operated by union employees is continuing.
"We're declaring a boycott on the place," Loux said, "both a boycott of the hotel and campaigning against the sale of the condominiums."
Loux, a frequently successful veteran of battles to ensure that new Boston hotels are run by members of her union, suggested the boycott would affect the hotel with respect to advance bookings, not development of the structure itself.
The hotel is in the middle of construction, having topped off its steel structure only last month. Asked whether the disagreement has affected construction, Loux said, "Not yet."
Hotel owners and operators, especially those with luxury facilities, often try to avoid using union workers, which they say are harder to manage and can increase costs because of union rules.
But many hotels in downtown Boston, a strongly pro-union community, are staffed by Local 26. And the administration of Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who has had strong support from Loux in the past, has leaned on developers to agree to use union employees.
Brian Fallon, the local partner of Extell Development Co., the New York firm that is developing the property, said, "The InterContinental Hotels Group is our tenant, and it is neither our right nor our decision to make regarding union affiliation."
Fallon noted that on Tuesday there were 339 union construction workers on the site. "We are investing over $310 million in the City of Boston," he said. "It's helpful when people are all pulling in the same direction."
In a statement issued yesterday, InterContinental Hotels & Resorts, a subsidiary, said it is "early in the development of this hotel," and that "we have preliminary discussions scheduled with the local union in mid-July at their request."
The InterContinental is an unusual case because the union issue was not resolved before the project got its approvals from the city to proceed.
"They're one of the largest hotel operators in the world," Loux said. "They're a formidable foe."
Asked why this matter is still being fought when the glass exterior is already going up, Loux said: "Some of them are just sort of tougher than others. This has taken us longer. We still have our teeth in it, and I hope we're turning the corner in negotiations."
Asked about the Mandarin Oriental Boston and Residences at Mandarin Oriental, another high-profile Boston project that is underway, where the labor issue also hasn't been resolved, Loux said she is "in negotiations" with the company.
Loux would appear to have less leverage on the Mandarin Oriental because the owners have agreements to purchase all but three of the 50 high-priced residential units in that project, located on Boylston Street at the Prudential Center in the Back Bay.
Fallon said that about half of the 130 condos at the InterContinental are already sold. They range in price from $400,000 to $6 million, averaging $1.5 million.
No one from Mandarin Oriental could be reached for comment yesterday. Most of Boston's luxury hotels are nonunion.
The Westin hotel now being built to serve as the headquarters for the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center and a Marriott Renaissance hotel, also underway on D Street in South Boston, both will be operated by union workers.
The InterContinental is on a coveted three-acre slot on an old Boston Edison site, which has the Fort Point Channel on one side and soon will boast the Rose Kennedy Greenway on the other.
The hotel and condos are wrapped around a 237-foot-tall ventilation structure that serves the Central Artery tunnel and has the capacity to carry 3.4 million cubic feet of air per minute.
The $310 million, 20-story project broke ground a year ago. The hotel will have 424 rooms and suites. It was designed by Elkus/Manfredi Architects of Boston.
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