Palace Says, “Let Them Eat Cake”
By Carl Finamore
In exactly one month, San Francisco’s proud, illustrious Palace Hotel will celebrate the centennial anniversary of its 1909 reconstruction after the city’s devastating earthquake three years earlier. At the time of its original construction in 1875, it was considered the largest and most glamorous hotel in the world, hosting for several decades a series of world prominent guests including U.S. presidents, Walls St. magnates and Hollywood’s biggest stars.
But there is little to celebrate for approximately 350 hotel employees who face the dim prospect of substantially increased healthcare premiums demanded by owners who brandish the typical impersonal Wall Street investment name tag of Cerberus Capital Management.
The Palace is actually managed by Starwood Hotels and Resorts, a more marketable personal moniker but with the same corporate one-way cash/flow mentality as their Cerberus bosses. Starwood earned $180 million in profits during the first nine months of 2009 and their stock price increased 85% since January.
Yet, following the same pattern as several dozen other premier hotels in the city, the Palace refused to accept a one-year contract offer from UNITE-HERE, Local 2, that the hotel workers’ union says will cost less than 2% of payroll.
“It’s clear management still thinks they can use this year’s economy as an excuse to permanently slash our health care,” said Elena Duran, an 18-year server at the Palace Hotel. “But we’re not going to let these hugely profitable companies get away with that.”
So, today, the Palace Hotel is silent. Several hundred members of Local 2 walked off the job, participating in the second three-day strike in as many weeks. With 100% occupancy and several major conventions booked at the hotel, Local 2 is sending another message to the owners that bargaining is less expensive than stalling.
The target last week for a limited three-day strike was the Grand Hyatt which is now the subject of a union boycott. The same fate awaits the Palace.
Grand Hyatt officials released a statement calling the strike "irresponsible" and offering advice to the union that "rather than focus on hurting our tourism economy, Local 2 should direct itself to negotiate a fair contract that takes into account the current difficult economic times.”
Fortunately, Local 2 members can do the math. They average $30,000 annual salaries while, on the same day as the three-day Hyatt strike was announced, the owners of the hotel hit a mega-jackpot of just under $1 billion by cashing in less than a quarter of their stock.
This was another celebration by hotel owners that left workers out of the festivities.
That’s why the cooks, dishwashers, room cleaners, bartenders and banquet servers who built a sterling reputation of service over a 100-year span, are now on the same historic street corner where the Palace has stood for 134 years, chanting “24-hours, All day, all night; Fight, Fight, Fight!”; “Greedy Palace, You’re no good, Sign that contract like you should!” and “Hey, Shame on you, There’s a boycott here, Check out now, Local 2!”
The Union is negotiating separately with each of the 61 hotels whose contracts covering 9000 workers expired in August 2009. The objective is to get one agreement that can serve as the bench mark for all the other hotels reflecting Local 2’s “one union, one contract” policy which establishes the same standards for all hotels in the city, big or small.
This is an important stance uniting all hotel workers even as they bargain separately with each hotel.
Carl Finamore was on the Palace picket line, is a delegate to the San Francisco Labor Council and former President (ret), Air Transport Employees, Local Lodge 1781, IAMAW, AFL-CIO. He can be reached at [email protected]