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UNITE-HERE Lobbies Against One of Three Finalists to to Operate
 New Convention Center with Two Hotels in Albany, New York

By Tim O'Brien, Albany Times Union, N.Y.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Oct. 21, 2007 - ALBANY -- A labor union is lobbying the Albany Convention Center Authority against hiring one of three finalists to run its hotels.

The Waterford Group is in the midst of a labor dispute at a Marriott hotel connected to the convention center in Hartford, Conn., and is being sued by that city over enforcement of a living-wage law.

"Our union has been involved in a bitter labor dispute with the Waterford Group for the last year and a half," Gary Belladonna Sr., regional manager for UNITE-HERE, wrote in a letter to authority board members. "In recent months, this dispute has escalated, prompting a lawsuit against the Waterford Group by the city of Hartford."

Terry Bickhardt, president of the Waterford Group, said the firm has a good relationship with the same union at two other properties.

"We have a collective bargaining agreement with UNITE-HERE at the Hilton Hartford," he said. "We also have a collective bargaining agreement at the Radisson in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. That contract was just renewed this year. We do not have an estranged relationship with UNITE-HERE."

Michael Hennessy, chief of staff to Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez, said the city sued to get compliance with the law, which requires the hotel operator to respect employees' right to organize. In return, the unions agree not to strike, picket or boycott the center.

The city gave the hotel an $8 million loan and a lowered tax rate. In return, the operator had to guarantee labor peace.

"All of this is designed to protect the city's investment in the hotel," Hennessy said. "Waterford has told us in this case they don't believe they are subject to this law."

Bickhardt said the hotel pays the living wage required under the law. He says the dispute centers on the method employees can use to choose a union: card-check agreements, under which a union is recognized once a majority of employees sign cards seeking representation, or an election overseen by the federal National Labor Relations Board.

"The Marriott is complying with the city's living-wage ordinance," he said.

The Rev. Michael Roberts, chief of staff of the union's regional board, said the Hartford center is losing business as a result of the dispute. If Albany hired the Waterford Group, he said, "it would seriously impact that convention center's ability to compete not only across the country but also in New York state. We don't think Waterford can run a successful convention center in Albany."

George Leveille, chairman of the Albany Convention Center Authority board, said the union's concerns will be considered. A separate committee is reviewing and interviewing the finalists.

The other potential operators are a partnership between local firm BBL Development Group and Ocean Hospitalities of Portsmouth, N.H., and Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide of White Plains.

The plans call for a full-service hotel with 250 rooms and a 150-room hotel with more limited amenities.

"I'm sure the committee would take any information on any issues they have," Leveille said. "They certainly -- obviously with an open mind -- look into what the issues might be. There are always two sides to a story, if not three."

The authority is expected to make the selection at 8:30 a.m. Friday at the Albany County Office Building, 112 State St. Tim O'Brien can be reached at 454-5092 or by e-mail at tobrien@timesunion.com.

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To see more of the Albany Times Union, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.timesunion.com.

Copyright (c) 2007, Albany Times Union, N.Y.

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