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Logjam Between Hotel Union and Two Providence Hotels

Negotiations Stall Over Wage Reductions, Increase in Health Care Premiums by $300,
Hotel Flexibility with Hiring Subcontractors and Managers Performing Union Work

By Philip Marcelo, The Providence Journal, R.I.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

January 6, 2010 -- PROVIDENCE -- Workers rallied in front of The Westin and Renaissance hotels on Tuesday, as Westin workers protested that their contract, which expired Oct. 31, remains unresolved and as Renaissance workers said they voted to unionize.

About 90 people marched in a circle in front of The Westin Providence, the state's largest hotel, at about 3:30 p.m. chanting "No contract, no peace" and "Shame on the Westin" before marching up Francis Street to the Renaissance Providence Hotel, which is located next to the State House in the former Masonic Temple.

Local 217 of Unite Here, the union representing Westin workers, led the rally, which included representatives from other city labor unions, community groups and the City Council. It was the second such rally since the union's contract expired, according to union officials.

Christopher Cook, who works in the Westin hotel's purchasing department and is on Local 217's executive board, says that negotiations with the Procaccianti Group, which owns the Westin, are ongoing.

But Cook says the union is unhappy with the company's negotiations. The company, he says, is seeking a 20-percent reduction in salaries, an increase in health-care premiums by $300, and greater flexibility in hiring subcontractors and having managers do union work.

The 250-member union is also calling for the reinstatement of three workers that it maintains were "illegally replaced" following an informational picket in November, according to Cook.

The workers had "punched out" for a break but instead joined picketers. They were let go that same day.

"It's a violation of federal law," says Cook. "They were exercising their right to protest."

Ralph V. Izzi Jr., communications director for the Procaccianti Group, declined to discuss negotiations and address the termination of the three workers in an e-mail Tuesday.

Benjamin Terry, a Renaissance hotel worker, says approximately 125 hotel workers voted over the holiday season to join Local 217.

"We want the right to organize and go union," Terry said.

According to Cooke, of Local 217, the hotel, which is a Marriott franchise, agreed to allow workers to unionize as a part of the tax breaks they received from the city.

The vote to unionize will now be verified by a third party under a "Card Counting Neutrality Agreement" that the hotel agreed to, said Cooke. Under the neutrality agreement, the employer cannot interfere in the employees' decisions about whether to join the union, and the employees and the union agree not to disrupt the workplace through strikes, picketing or boycotts, according to Unite Here's Web site.

Angelo DePeri, general manager at the Renaissance, did not immediately return a call or e-mail on Tuesday.

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To see more of the The Providence Journal, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.projo.com.

Copyright (c) 2010, The Providence Journal, R.I.

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