Labor Pains End in SF, Chicago

One of the longest, most bitter labor disputes in recent hospitality history ended in mid-September when hoteliers and the union representing local hotel workers agreed to a contract in San Francisco.

An agreement was reached between the San Francisco Multi-Employer Group (SFMEG), which represents 13 major hotels, and the Unite Here labor union, which represents approximately 100,000 hotel workers in the United States and Canada. The agreement followed similar labor pacts the union forged with Hilton Hotels and Global Hyatt Corp. for their Chicago hotels and with several hotels in Honolulu.

The San Francisco deal was quickly followed by an agreement struck in Chicago with 16 other hotels, including five Starwood properties.

These agreements intensified the pressure on hoteliers in Toronto and Monterey, CA, to settle with the workers' union, improving the chances that meeting groups will enjoy a new era of labor calm in many cities.

In San Francisco, approximately 9,000 union members at more than 60 hotels had been working without contracts, some since August 2004. The five-year contract is retroactive to the previous contract expiration date. In announcing the agreement, SFMEG President Steve Trent called the pact "one of the best contracts in the industry." Added Mike Casey, president of Unite Here Local 2, "We are delighted with this great agreement."

In addition to winning wage and benefit increases for workers, the union apparently prevailed on two major issues, which strengthen Unite Here nationally. First, the contract expires in 2009, which coincides with contract expirations in Chicago, thereby giving the union more leverage with hotel chains in negotiating the next contract. Union locals in other cities where contracts expire this year are also seeking 2009 expiration dates for contracts.

Second, the agreement increases the union's ability to organize workers at non-union hotels. Under a system known as card-check neutrality, workers can sign cards favoring unionization rather than vote by secret ballot in elections conducted by the National Labor Relations Board—a longer process and one in which employers can lobby employees to vote against unionization.