|By Elizabeth Bluemink, Anchorage Daily
News, AlaskaMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
November 17, 2009 --Sheraton workers have joined Hilton workers in asking people to boycott their downtown Anchorage hotels after management imposed a heavier workload on room attendants and more expensive family health coverage.
The changes at the Sheraton Anchorage Hotel that spurred its workers' boycott -- including raising the monthly premium for family health insurance to $800 -- were announced in October.
Workers will opt for no health coverage because they can't afford it, said Jessica Lawson, an organizer for UNITE HERE Local 878, which is hosting a rally this afternoon outside the hotel.
In the last two weeks, Lawson said, most of the 140 union workers at the Sheraton signed a petition in favor of the boycott.
Local 878 also has filed several charges against the two hotels with the National Labor Relations Board, including allegations of bad-faith bargaining and changing work conditions without negotiating with workers.
The NLRB has not yet acted on the charges, Lawson said.
The Sheraton boycott is not a strike. Instead, the union is asking potential guests to not eat, sleep or meet at the hotel until the boycott is over.
The hotel's owner, Dallas-based Remington Hotels, said Monday it negotiated with the union in good faith but the talks have broken down. "We frankly don't understand Local 878's strategy. The Sheraton employs people whose jobs depend on the success of the hotel," said Amy McDaniel, a senior vice president for Remington.
McDaniel declined to discuss Local 878's allegations about the new workload for room attendants and health insurance costs at the hotels.
Lawson said that the Sheraton has adopted the same workload requirement that prompted workers at the Hilton Anchorage to call for a boycott at that hotel in May.
At both hotels, room attendants must now clean 17 rooms during their eight-hour shift, rather than the 15 they used to clean. Several workers at the Hilton have ended up on injury leave and others have quit because they couldn't handle the more intense workload, Lawson said.
The disagreement between the union and the Hilton owner, Kentucky-based Columbia Sussex, is still unresolved, according to Karen Vezina, the hotel's acting general manager.
Lawson said the speeches and potential picketing around the Sheraton will start today at 4:45 p.m., she said.
The Hilton boycott began in May and some groups have pulled their meetings from the hotel, including the NAACP and Alaska-based chapters of teacher, carpentry and nurses unions, she said.
"We know if we don't win (the battles with the Hilton and Sheraton) that it will drastically affect workers at other hotels" in Anchorage, Lawson said.
The union workers at the other hotels are worried their employers will impose more difficult workload requirements, too, depending on the outcome of this fight, she said.
Find Elizabeth Bluemink online at adn.com/contact/ebluemink or call 257-4317.
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