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 Contract Negotiations Stall Between Los Angeles' 17 Union
 Hotels and HERE; Hotels Seeking 5 Year Contract,
 Union Wants 2 Year Contract
By Evan Pondel, Daily News, Los Angeles
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

June 25, 2004 - Los Angeles hotel workers said Thursday that they are moving forward with contract negotiations despite resistance from national chains like Hyatt and Sheraton.

Talks between local hotels and the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union began three months ago, but negotiations have hit an impasse in the face of a union-led effort to leverage more negotiating power. The union would like a new contract that expires at the same time as other hotel workers across the country. However, major hotel chains are resisting the demand to have contracts expire simultaneously in 10 cities in 2006.

"We are not going to agree to a two-year contract," said Ken Ballard, attorney representing the Los Angeles Hotel Employers' Council.

Union leaders say such an expiration date is necessary to bolster negotiations with behemoth hotel chains. "The current proposal out there is a step backward," Maria Elena Durazo, a union president, said Thursday. "How do you negotiate with corporations through mergers and acquisitions? We have to unite with other workers in other cities."

More than 4,000 hotel workers will be affected by the new contract.

The 17 union hotels involved in the contract negotiations include the Westin Century Plaza, the Sheraton Universal, the Hyatt Regency and the Millennium Biltmore. The hotels said Tuesday that negotiations stalled due to the union's request for a two-year agreement ending at the same time as contracts in New York, Boston and Chicago. Los Angeles hotel workers' most recent contract expired in April.

"We view many of their (union's) proposals as unreasonable," Ballard said. "And we feel they have no intention to negotiate."

Hotel workers' contracts expire in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., in the next three months, potentially providing even more negotiating thrust for local union workers.

The National Labor Relations Board has the final say on whether an official impasse exists between the hotel chains and union. If an impasse is declared, the hotels would be allowed to impose the terms of their last contract proposal.

Union leaders plan to hold a vote July 1 to determine whether workers will accept a hotel offer of a five-year contract, which includes wage and pension increases.

Penny Moore, a bartender at the Sheraton Universal Hotel, said she has yet to see an offer that is acceptable. "And I strongly believe we need a two-year contract. Right now, there is no other livable contract," she said.

After more than a decade of work at the Sheraton, Moore is disappointed about several contract stipulations. She took issue with the hotel's policy toward minimum wage, pensions and the number of sick days currently offered. Health care benefits are another topic that continues to worry workers.

"And though we have to face a new reality," Durazo said. "But hotel workers are not getting what they deserve."

The Los Angeles City Council is slated to hold an economic development and tourism hearing Monday, with plans to address the hotel workers' woes.

"We want to increase Los Angeles' presence as an international tourism destination. To accomplish that, the services that are provided need to be superior," said Councilman Martin Ludlow, chairman of the Conventions, Tourism and Entertainment Committee.

"The only way to do that is by investing in the work force."

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