Bay Area hotel union agrees to pay back benefit funds

Hotel workers enmeshed in a longstanding boycott campaign against several San Francisco hotel companies agreed to stop diverting money from a union benefit fund to a separate legal defense fund, a hotel spokesman said Tuesday.

After the National Labor Relations Board brought a legal case against Unite Here Local 2, which represents 12,000 hotel employees in San Francisco and San Mateo counties, the union agreed to reverse its actions and restore the monies to the proper funds with interest, hotel spokesman Pete Hillan said in a written statement.

In May, the Grand Hyatt and Hyatt Regency complained about the practice to the NLRB, and the agency subsequently intervened, Hillan said. Before the union redirected the funds, the money had been going to fund child care and elder care.

At the first of two dueling news conferences at the Union Square Grand Hyatt on Tuesday, hotel General Manager David Nadelman complained about the union’s ongoing boycott campaign. “One million dollars is a lot of money to chase business away from San Francisco,”Nadelman said.

At the second such news conference, union spokeswoman Riddhi Mehta-Neugebauer said the campaign was paying to encourage tourists not to spend their money at several area hotel companies. Ian Lewis of Unite Here Local 2 said the hotels are the Hotel Frank and Hotel Metropolis, as well as certain hotels affiliated with the Hilton, Hyatt, and Starwood chains.

Hillan’s statement called on the union to respond to its request for bargaining dates, but Mehta-Neugebauer had said earlier that contract negotiators are scheduled to meet Feb. 1. Later in the day, the union evidently agreed to stop the fund diversion.

In August 2009, the contracts of roughly 50,000 nationwide Unite Here employees expired, Lewis said. Since the two sides have been unable to agree on a new contract, mostly over a proposed $200 to $300 monthly health care fee, Local 2 has arranged six short strikes and small protests in front of up to three hotels per week.

The ruckus has San Francisco tourism leaders worried about their $8.5 billion industry, because they say it scares visitors and major convention organizers away.

“What gets hurt is San Francisco,” San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO Joe D’Alessandro said at the business news conference.

Correction: This article was corrected on Jan. 19, 2011. The original article misstated facts about a fund. Although Unite Here Local 2 did agree to reinstate some funds that it had transferred from a benefit fund into a legal defense fund, that money was separate from the strike fund the union has been using to wage its boycott campaign against several area hotels. The article also misstated the hotels being targeted. Ian Lewis of Unite Here Local 2 said the hotels are the Hotel Frank, Hotel Metropolis, and certain members of the Hilton, Hyatt, and Starwood chains. Finally, the article incorrectly stated the number of hotel workers represented by Unite Here; Lewis said it is fewer than 50,000.
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