Employees strike during busy week

As events such as baseball playoff games and the Nike Women’s Marathon draw visitors to San Francisco, hundreds of workers at the Hilton Hotel Union Square walked off the job Wednesday, leaving executives scrambling to maintain business as usual for the patrons at the fully booked property.

More than 850 hotel workers — including housekeepers, bellman and servers — began a six-day strike after a year of combative negotiations with the company went nowhere.

Hotel workers congregated outside The City’s largest Hilton, along O’Farrell Street, throughout the day, hoping to deliver their message to the masses of tourists passing through — as well as to hotel executives.

They picked a busy week for hotels, which are hosting Giants fans here for playoffs and participants with the Avon Breast Cancer Walk and the Nike marathon, expected to draw 20,000 alone.

“That’s probably why they called it this week; they can affect a lot of folks,” said Michael Dunne, general manager for the Hilton Hotel. “It’s not good for San Francisco.”

Still, Dunne said the Hilton managed to call in managers and workers from surrounding Hilton Hotels to cover for the 850 workers who are on strike. Rooms were still fully booked as of Wednesday afternoon, and restaurants and coffee shops were operating smoothly, Dunne said.

The San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau has reported that tourist numbers in San Francisco declined to 15.4 million in 2009, down 5.8 percent from 2008.

The labor dispute, which affects 61 hotels, has cost San Francisco more than $8 million this year in lost hotel rooms, transportation, retail sales and visitor attractions. Ten conventions have either canceled or opted not to come to San Francisco this year, citing the labor dispute, the bureau reported.

Unite Here Local 2, which represents more than 12,000 hotel workers, has been pushing for higher pensions, better wage increases and affordable health care as part of the new contract it has been negotiating for more than a year. Talks are at a standstill, with union members claiming they would have to pay an extra $200-plus for medical coverage. Workers want wage increases, and they believe layoffs are possible.

Hilton executives counter that while they are not increasing pensions, they aren’t cutting pensions either. They also say they have put a generous offer on the table that includes full medical coverage for four years, Dunne said.

Workers said Hilton’s parent company, Blackstone, is profiting while squeezing more work out of its employees for less money.

Labor disputes have been a long-standing problem for San Francisco hotels, which have already dropped their rates 20 percent to cope with the recession. Meanwhile, this is the sixth strike at a hotel in San Francisco since the contract expired 14 months ago.

In November, workers walked off the job at the Westin St. Francis. That was followed by actions at the Grand Hyatt Union Square and the Palace Hotel.

 

SF tourism

  • 15.4 million visitors in 2009
  • Down 5.8 percent from 2008
  • 10 conventions lost due to labor dispute
  • Equal to 5,700 hotel rooms not booked

Source: San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau

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