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Four Boston Hotels Managed by Starwood Reach Labor Union Agreement;  6 Year Contract
 Provides a Combined 38%  Increase in Wage, Health Benefits, and Pension Gains
 for the Average Hotel Employee

By Robert Weisman, The Boston GlobeMcClatchy-Tribune Business News

Apr. 25--More than a year after negotiations began, four Boston hotels managed by New York-based Starwood Hotels yesterday reached an agreement with the labor union representing about 5,000 hotel workers in the Boston area.

While the proposed 6 1/4-year contract covers wage and benefit increases only for the Sheraton Boston, the Park Plaza, and two Westin hotels in the city, it is expected to set the stage for new pacts at 15 other unionized hotels, including the Colonnade, the Parker House, and the Ritz-Carlton, that signed so-called me too agreements last fall committing them to abide by the contract terms negotiated by the Sheraton Boston.

The contract is set for a ratification vote tomorrow by nearly 1,500 union members employed by the Starwood-managed hotels. If they approve the pact, the me-too agreements would also kick in. The pact would be retroactive to Dec. 1, 2006, when the previous contract expired, with workers receiving lump sums for their retroactive raises.

Under the contract agreement, non tipped employees would get average wage increases of $3.50 an hour over the life of the contract, according to L. Robert Batterman, an attorney for Starwood. Tipped employees would get half that average hourly wage increase, though they typically earn the bulk of their compensation through tips, he said.

Janice Loux, the president of Local 26 of UNITE HERE!, a union formed through the merger of hotel and garment workers organizations, wouldn't discuss wages or benefits specifically, saying she wanted to present details to her membership first. But she said combined wage, health benefit, and pension gains would amount to an increase of about 38 percent in total compensation for the average hotel employee.

"It's a historic victory," Loux said, citing the growth of Boston as a center of tourism and a destination for business travel. "This contract is a reflection of the power of this union's membership."

The hotel industry negotiated contracts last year with union locals in New York, Chicago, Toronto, San Francisco, and Honolulu, but bargaining stalled in Boston and Los Angeles. Though there is still no deal in Los Angeles, "the agreement in Boston is within the economic parameters of the settlement in the other cities," Batterman said.

In addition to the wage increases, the contract agreement would boost employer health contributions by an average of $2.60 an hour over the life of the contract, which expires Feb. 28, 2013, said Batterman. That would effectively restore benefits to levels in 2001, at the beginning of the previous contract, he said.

The hotels also agreed to replace a 401(k) retirement plan with a defined benefit pension plan. Union officials presented this as a victory, saying many hotel workers didn't contribute to the 401(k). Batterman said the pension plan would bring Boston in line with hotel retirement plans in other cities.

And the two sides agreed to a diversity initiative that would intensify the hotels outreach to potential employees in Boston's communities. Loux said the deal would increase recruitment of African-Americans whom she said are underrepresented on hotel staffs.

James E. Rooney, the executive director of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, said the contract agreement with hotel employees was "good news" as Boston prepares to host some of its biggest conventions this summer.

Globe staff writer Peter J. Howe contributed to this report.


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