Within hours of the 25th anniversary of Martin Luther King's national holiday on Monday, January 17, San Francisco Grand Hyatt management called an early morning Tuesday press conference to denounce the hotel union, Local 2, UNITE-HERE, for its boycott of ten city hotels. "Local 2 leaders are doing damage to their members and to the city," asserted David Nadelman, general manager of the Grand Hyatt, situated in the center of downtown San Francisco.
"They should get back to the bargaining table and negotiate. In fact, we asked Local 2 to be a faithful partner and actually conduct business calls to bring tourism back to San Francisco instead of transferring one million dollars to their boycott fund."
Demonstration and civil disobedience in support of union hotel workers in front of the San Francisco Grand Hyatt in July 2010—photos by Bill Hackwell, IndyBay.org
"A prolonged labor action has a negative impact on our economy where tourists contribute $8 billion annually, 70,000 jobs are directly involved, and $500,000 in tax revenue is generated," added Joe D'Alessandro, CEO, San Francisco Travel Association. "The city loses $30 million in lost revenue for each major convention we lose."
The CEOs of the Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce also agreed that the union should end the boycott and get back to the bargaining table.
A related issue raised at the press conference was the announcement that two Hyatt union hotels in San Francisco filed National Labor Relation Board (NLRB) charges against the union local, claiming that "Local 2 leadership unlawfully violated the terms" of the collective bargaining agreement when they "quietly diverted money [two cents an hour] from the Child & Elder Fund [to the Legal Fund], without bargaining with Hyatt."
Normally two cents is not anything to fight about, but the Hyatt Hotels see it differently. They are locked in a bitter labor dispute now dragging into its 16th month. The Hyatt press conference was called, ostensibly, because the "union leadership is hiding the truth" about funding for the Legal Fund and Hyatt was committed to "your right to know." Yet, the majority of the presentations at the press conference emphasized objections to the unions' "stubborn" bargaining and "unjustified" boycott and only secondary references were made about the Legal Fund controversy.
According to the union, Hyatt's claims of "unlawful" acts are patently false. "Around eight years ago, the union switched over two cents an hour from the over-funded Legal Fund to the under-funded Child & Elder Care Fund and now we want to stop this allocation away from the Legal Fund because the situation is reversed. The Legal Fund needs money and the Child & Elder Care does not. Nobody objected eight years ago, why now?" asked Riddhi Mehta, Local 2 spokesperson. "It won't cost any of the hotels another penny of contributions."
The Legal Fund provides aid to hotel workers who face unlawful evictions and foreclosures, with the majority of funds now also being used to help those seeking citizenship and with immigration processing. Rising government fees for immigration documents have led to the shortfall in the Legal Fund. "Of the 1,000 claims in the last six months made to the Legal Fund, 75 percent were related to immigration and Hyatt workers, ironically, are the second highest beneficiaries of the Fund," according to a Local 2 representative.
This explanation has led immigration rights activists and religious and community figures to make their own accusations against Hyatt's targeting of immigrants. Hyatt is extremely sensitive to these charges with Nadelman responding that, "Charging we are anti-immigrant is as untrue as charges that we have the worst working conditions." The union previously cited an academic study listing Hyatt with the worst injury record in the industry.
Aurolyn Rush, a 15-year Grand Hyatt employee, said, "At the negotiating table, Hyatt is trying to increase our health care costs and freeze our wages and pensions. At work, Hyatt housekeepers report the highest rate of injury in the country. And now, Hyatt is trying to deplete our Legal Fund. When will it stop?"
Union activists believe Hyatt's strategy is to pressure the union to soften its bargaining stance, but they insist it will not work. Following the Hyatt press conference a union picket line of several hundred people protested Hyatt's accusations that Local 2 leadership "acted unlawfully."
The hotel dispute remains very charged with no settlement in sight. Something is sure to break open, but for now, activists say, more intimidation means more resistance.
Carl Finamore is a delegate to the San Francisco Labor Council, AFL-CIO. He can be reached at [email protected].