|By Jeff Swiatek, The Indianapolis
StarMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
May 19, 2009--After President Barack Obama on Sunday night expressed support for a hotel union organizing drive, he met privately with the former doorman of the Indianapolis Westin who has spoken out in favor of the union.
William Selm, who lost his job at the Downtown hotel after his work was outsourced to a contractor, said he was summoned backstage to meet the president after his speech at the Westin.
"He said, 'It's a terrible thing that happened to you, about workers being intimidated,' " Selm said Monday. "Then he said, 'You're in my corner.' "
Obama visited the Westin for a pair of fundraisers Sunday night following his speech at the University of Notre Dame's graduation ceremony in South Bend. The Westin Indianapolis is one of three hotels being targeted by UNITE HERE.
In a nod to the unionization efforts, Obama said, "There are workers here from Indianapolis hotels who are seeking to unionize, including some right here at the Westin. And I want to recognize these workers and offer my support for their efforts. Where are they? Raise your hands, guys."
Selm said meeting the president "was quite an honor and a surprise." Selm said he and several other hotel workers received free tickets to the fundraiser, which normally cost $250 to $5,000.
UNITE HERE, through its Hotel Workers Rising organizing arm, also is trying to organize workers at the Downtown Hyatt Regency and the Sheraton at Keystone at the Crossing, but has been unable to agree with the hotels on a process for conducting a union vote. No Indianapolis hotels are currently unionized.
Westin General Manager Dale McCarty couldn't be reached Monday for comment.
The New York-based union represents 450,000 workers in the hotel, apparel, casino, laundry and food service industries.
Call Star reporter Jeff Swiatek at (317) 444-6483.
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