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Unite HERE Takes Aim at Organizing Phoenix Area Hotel Workers;
Effort Launched with Boycott of the Phoenician

By Donna Hogan, The Tribune, Mesa, Ariz.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Mar. 9, 2006 - A union is trying to organize Valley hotel workers, launching that effort with a boycott of a Scottsdale-area resort, The Phoenician.

Worried hoteliers hired an expert in labor law to help them prepare for a potential onslaught of boycotts, banners and other unattractive-totourist tactics.

"They're back," said Joseph Clees of Phoenix law firm Ogletree Deakins. "And with a more concerted, aggressive campaign."

Clees told members of the Valley Hotel & Resort Association meeting Wednesday at the Embassy Suites Phoenix/ Scottsdale that Unite HERE is taking aim nationally at hotel industry giants Hilton, Marriott and Starwood, parent of the Phoenician, the Westin Kierland, and Sheraton Wild Horse Pass resorts and the upcoming W Scottsdale.

The union, which represents hotel and restaurant workers, has turned its recent attention to unionizing the Valley, Clees said.

It's the third time, he said, recalling an unsuccessful effort about nine years ago to organize Valley hotel workers. A more recent attempt to convince the Phoenix City Council to support unionization of the planned 1,000 room downtown Sheraton also failed.

The union could not be reached for comment late Wednesday, but its Web site is urging a boycott of the Phoenician but lists no other properties.

"We are not anti-union, but we are working to protect the rights of our employees," said Valley Hotel & Resort Association president Debbie Johnson. "We just want them to use fair tactics."

Johnson, who just returned from Washington, D.C., and a national conference addressing this issue, said one alarming tactic used by the union in some locations is "card-check neutrality," which she said requires hotel management to stay out of the picture while workers are invited to sign a card requesting more information about the union. The card is then counted as a vote for unionization, she said.

The sour subject came after convention bureau leaders touted the sweet state of the local hotel industry. And how to make it even better.

Stephanie Nowack, president of the Tempe Convention and Visitors Bureau, said her group's aggressive wooing of sports matches, gay groups and minorities has paid off. She said Tempe will build on those and other strategies.

Rachel Sacco, president of the Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, said a recent study found that every $1 spent on tourism promotion in Scottsdale resulted in a $21 return.

Sacco is lobbying for the development of a long-stalled project, the Desert Discovery Center, to open up the preserves to a whole new audience of visitors.

Steve Moore, president of the Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the Phoenix Convention Center's massive in-progress expansion is paying dividends already. As of March 1, the center has already pre-booked 270 conventions with a combined 830,000 attendees, representing 1.4 million room nights, he said. Among them, the National Rifle Association plans to bring 65,000 to the Valley in 2009.

"It shows what we can attract," Moore said. He also is trying to score an NCAA Final Four -- both the men's and women's tournaments -- and pro basketball and baseball all-star games.

But Moore said while the immediate future looks bright, hoteliers and tourism leaders need to be wary.

"It's been a consumer-led recovery since 9/11, but now we're moving to a corporateled recovery," he said. "And the economy is harder to forecast than in previous cycles."


Copyright (c) 2006, The Tribune, Mesa, Ariz.

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. For information on republishing this content, contact us at (800) 661-2511 (U.S.), (213) 237-4914 (worldwide), fax (213) 237-6515, or e-mail [email protected].

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