|By Donna De Marco, The Washington Times|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Sep. 15, 2004 - Contract negotiations continued yesterday between 14 Washington hotels and 3,500 workers as the local union prepares for a strike in an attempt to give workers more clout in future negotiations.
The current labor contract, which covers employees in hotels including the Hilton Washington & Towers, Capital Hilton, the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel, Loews L'Enfant Plaza and Omni Shoreham, expires at midnight.
Negotiations, which have been ongoing since July 15, are expected to continue through today.
In the event of a strike, the hotels will remain open.
Washington's Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union Local 25, as well as local unions in Los Angeles and San Francisco, are negotiating about wages, pension, health care and workload, but they also are fighting for contracts to expire in 2006 -- the same time as the contracts in several other major cities.
That expiration date would give the unions more leverage when bargaining with the major hotel chains, union officials say.
"The real sticking point is the length of the contract," said Amanda Cooper, a spokeswoman for Unite Here, the local union's parent. "We're trying to get equal footing."
Ms. Cooper said making all the new contracts have the same expiration dates would make the unions more equal at the bargaining table to the four major chains -- Marriott International, Hilton Hotels, Starwood Hotels & Resorts and Hyatt Hotels & Resorts, which dominate the industry.
Local 25 is also addressing its members' workload in the negotiations.
Union officials say the District's occupancy and room rates have returned to pre-September 11 levels, but the hotels have not rehired staff. As a result, the workloads and stress levels have risen for employees.
In Washington, about 94 percent of 2,100 workers voted Monday to authorize a strike but no date has been set.
Another 1,500 union workers in another 12 hotels also will be affected by the outcome of the negotiations because they will adopt the new contract.
Those workers are not part of the negotiations or the potential strike.
The union in Los Angeles, representing 2,800 workers in nine hotels, also voted Monday to authorize a strike.
San Francisco's union, representing 4,000 workers in 14 hotels, was expected to vote yesterday but results were not finalized by last night.
If a strike does happen, the Hotel Association of Washington, D.C. has spelled out hotels' rights on its Web site (www.hawdc.com):
--The hotel can stop contributing for health insurance and other benefits.
--The property can lock out employees and hire replacement workers.
--Employees who are locked out will not be able to cross a picket line or receive unemployment benefits.
"We don't think that the union bosses' desire for more power is worth a strike," the Web site said.
A strike would affect an industry that has just recovered from the September 11 terrorist attacks.
"We have spent a lot of time recovering from a disastrous economic downturn," said William A. Hanbury, president and chief executive of the Washington DC Convention and Tourism Corp. "We don't want to take a step back."
"The most important thing is that we maintain a position as a premiere destination that has outstanding service for our valued visitors," Mr. Hanbury said. That's achieved through "strong management and labor relations," he added.
Many of the hotels involved in the negotiations are the largest and busiest in the city -- particularly during the fall, which is a prime time for conventions. But Mr. Hanbury said the economic impact of a strike by 14 of the more than 80 hotels in the city would be minimal.
"What it could hurt is our image and reputation," he said.
--This article is based in part on wire service reports.
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