|By Jeff Swiatek, The Indianapolis
StarMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
May 7, 2010--Three major Indianapolis hotels find themselves playing defense against the NFL players union.
The NFL Players Association has sent letters warning that its members might boycott the hotels because of their labor practices. The action would come during the NFL Scouting Combine, an Indianapolis-hosted job fair for prospective players held in late winter prior to the NFL's annual spring draft.
In letters mailed last month to the hotels, the NFL union took issue with the hotels for contracting out to temp agencies the jobs of hourly workers such as doormen and housekeepers.
The association also claims the hotel is not bargaining in good faith with a union that's been attempting to organize the hotels' employees.
The hotels are the Westin Indianapolis and Hyatt Regency Indianapolis, located Downtown, and the Sheraton Indianapolis Hotel & Suites at Keystone at the Crossing.
"The NFL Combine in Indianapolis fills many hotel rooms, and we will do business with hotel companies that treat their employees with fairness and respect," said the letters, released by the hotel workers' Chicago-based union, Unite Here.
Such a boycott might have minimal effect on the three hotels because prospective players who come to Indianapolis for testing at the combine stay at the Crowne Plaza at Union Station.
The players association calls on the hotels to allow their hourly employees "a fair process free from employer intimidation" to decide whether to join a union.
The letter is signed by Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday, who is on the players association's executive committee, and DeMaurice Smith, the association's executive director.
An association spokesman, Carl Francis, said no one from the association would comment on the letters.
The letters don't say whether the 1,900-member players union would attempt a boycott of the hotels during the 2012 Super Bowl that will be held in Indianapolis, or whether the union would try to persuade teams to stay at other hotels when they come to Indianapolis.
"We do not anticipate this will cause any disruption for the 2012 Super Bowl," said Dianna Boyce, a spokeswoman for the 2012 Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee.
A spokeswoman for the hotel union, Annemarie Strassel, said the letters from the players association are "a very powerful thing. It's really courageous of the players to be standing up for these people, who are some of the lowest-paid hotel workers in America."
She said the union's research shows hourly workers at the 573-room Westin Indianapolis and 497-room Hyatt Regency Indianapolis, which are two of the city's largest hotels, earn $8 an hour or less. That compares with unionized workers at major full-service hotels who earn wages of $14.60 in Chicago, $13.67 in Detroit and $11.38 in Pittsburgh, she said.
Brian Comes, general manager of the Hyatt Regency Indianapolis, said the hotel will contact the players union and "address the questions they have raised."
He criticized Unite Here for "mislead(ing) the public about Hyatt's commitment to our employees. Hyatt Regency Indianapolis has not made hourly staff reductions during the economic downturn, no full-time associates have lost benefits and we are a wage leader in the market."
The other two hotels did not respond to requests for comment.
A spokesman for the NFL, Brian McCarthy, declined to comment.
Jackie White, a longtime housekeeper who now works as a guest request runner at the Hyatt Regency, called the players association letters "wonderful."
She estimated about half of the housekeeping staff at the Downtown Hyatt is contracted from a temp agency. Almost all of them are Hispanic, and some have worked at the hotel for years without ever being hired by the hotel and qualifying for its benefit plan, she said.
"If they are going to keep them there five, six, seven years, they should be regular employees. They deserve some benefits and better pay, too," White said.
Call Star reporter Jeff Swiatek at (317) 444-6483.
Star reporter Bruce Smith contributed to this story.
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