|By Joe Napsha, The Pittsburgh
Tribune-ReviewMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
September 18, 2009 --While national labor leaders celebrated the return Thursday of a union representing hospitality and textile workers to the nation's largest labor federation, two rival groups continue to battle over who represents workers at Pittsburgh's major hotels.
Unite Here, an amalgamated union of 265,000 hotel, restaurant and textile workers, returned to the AFL-CIO fold on the first full day of Richard Trumka's presidency of the AFL-CIO. Four years after a bitter split with the AFL-CIO, Unite Here officially rejoined the federation on the final day of its convention in the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown.
Despite the show of labor peace at the convention, about 1,600 union workers at Pittsburgh's major hotels are caught in a dispute between Unite Here and Workers United, a faction that broke from Unite Here in March to affiliate with the Service Employees International Union.
Representatives from both Unite Here and Workers United claim they represent workers at the Sheraton Station Square Hotel, the Pittsburgh Hilton Hotel, Omni William Penn, Westin Convention Center and the Doubletree Hotel & Suites, along with the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Mellon Arena and PNC Park.
"We represent the workers at the hotels," said Mary Alice Cypher, a Unite Here Local 57 shop steward at the Sheraton Station Square, where she has been a banquet server for 23 years.
Cypher said that she has represented workers in filing grievances with management since Workers United split from Unite Here in March. She hopes to have the matter settled by the time negotiations begin next spring, at which time she expects Local 57 leadership will bargain on a new contract to replace the existing pact that expires in March 2010.
But Samuel Williamson, Western Pennsylvania director for the Workers United's Pennsylvania Joint Board, is just as emphatic that his union represents the workers at the city's hotels.
"None of the workers at the Pittsburgh hotels stayed with Unite Here. They voted (in March) to disaffiliate with Unite Here, but their (union) organizers are trying to unravel that ... harassing our members, trying to get them to leave (Workers United)," Williamson said.
One longtime employee at the Westin Convention Center hotel, claimed the employees are better off under Workers United.
"They (Unite Here) had their chance, and they did not get it right. We have better union management, better contracts, we see are (union) reps more, and we are more involved in the communities," said Mary Carter, 49, of Allentown.
The union battle has put Pittsburgh hotel management in the middle, Cypher said. At the Sheraton Station Square, both unions file grievances, as the hotel seeks to stay neutral. Unite Here has asked that union dues be placed in escrow until the dispute is settled.
"The courts will have to figure it out. We have good working relations with both (unions), and we have to stay neutral," said Tom Hardy, general manager of the Sheraton Station Square on the South Side.
The move by some 20,000 former Unite Here members in Pennsylvania to join 150,000 other union members nationwide to form Workers United, was prompted by an internal battle among Unite Here leaders. Unite Here voted in March to leave the Change to Win federation it helped form in 2005, after what it said were membership raids by the SEIU.
Trumka was urged by both sides to put an end to the fight, which is not advancing the labor movement, Cypher said.
"You don't organize an already organized (workplace)," Cypher said.
"The fight is not only bad for our union, it's bad for all unions," said Tim Jones, a Workers United member and a food server at Levy Restaurant at PNC Park on the North Side.
Joe Napsha can be reached via e-mail or at 724-836-5252.
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