Hotel workers take to picket line

Hotel walkouts such as the one at the Grand Hyatt Union Square on Thursday will be occurring regularly in coming weeks as union workers move to pressure 61 San Francisco hotels to approve a contract.

The six major hotel chains are trying to hammer out deals with their workers to avoid a strike, which could cripple The City’s tourism industry. The contract between the hotels and their employees expired Aug. 14.

The unexpected, three-day strike at the Grand Hyatt — which was called “irresponsible and stunning” by hotel management — is the first action against a business since the 9,000-member Unite Here! Local 2 union approved a strike two weeks ago.

Rather than start out with a massive strike involving all members, the union said it’s planning several days-long walkouts until management agrees to its contract terms.

“The strategy right now is to … go after certain companies, and one by one launch boycotts against them,” said Mike Casey, president of Local 2.

“But [we will] take some time to do it so it escalates and gives [the hotels] time to contemplate whether this is the future they want in the next 10 months.”

Only 31 “luxury properties” employing less than 8,500 union members could face walkouts as part of the authorization vote, the union said.

If that strategy doesn’t earn the desired contract, the union may stage a walkout at all 31 hotels at once, Casey said.

The tactic is a shift from 2004, when there was a widespread union strike followed by a lockout by employers. That shutdown, plus a two-year boycott, severely affected San Francisco’s tourism industry, which is one of the largest tax-
revenue generators for city coffers.

“We found the action by Local 2 to be irresponsible and stunning,” said David Nadelman, general manager of the Grand Hyatt.

Some guests at the hotel were equally shocked and dismayed.

“It is such a horrendous racket,” said guest Alice Westbie, 68, of Sonora, whose husband is attending a medical convention in The City.

Health care is the main sticking point in contract talks, though wages and the length of the contract are also at issue.

Caddie Lin, a single mother and 13-year hotel employee, said the hotel’s proposal would ruin her 16-year-old son’s desire to become a doctor.

“I can’t afford it,” she said. “It hurts.”

Management is currently paying the full cost of workers’ health care, but charges an additional $10 a month for all dependents.

That’s no longer sustainable, Nadelman said. Health care costs have risen from roughly $300 monthly per employee to $1,080 during the past decade, he said.

Employees need to pick up at least some of that cost, Nadelman said.

Proposals from two major hotel chains would increase monthly payments per employee by $35 in the first contract year, $115 in the second year and more than $200 the third, Casey said. The average union housekeeper makes $30,000 a year, the union said.

Workers are proposing a one-year contract that they say increases overall labor costs by less than 2 percent.

maldax@sfexaminer.com

Hyatt shares hit market running

NEW YORK — Shares of Hyatt Hotels Corp. jumped 12 percent in their first day on the New York Stock Exchange, as markets appeared to dismiss concerns about infighting among its founder’s heirs and tepid hotel reservations around the world.

Shares in Chicago-based Hyatt priced late Wednesday at $25 apiece, near the top end of the $23 to $26 range, raising $950 million. The iconic hotel chain’s shares stayed above that price Thursday, trading between $25.75 and $28.26. The stock closed $3 higher, or 12 percent, at $28.

David Menlow, president of IPOfinancial.com, said he sees Hyatt’s successful debut as a “mini-turning point,” but not necessarily an indication that the entire IPO market is rebounding.

— AP
 

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