Hotel workers vote to authorize strike

The talks between four major hotels in San Francisco and 9,000 union workers need to stay calm to avoid an approved strike that would deal a blow to tourism, a hotel manager said.

Four major chains — Hyatt, Hilton, Starwood and Intercontinental — are trying to hammer out new deals with their employees, which include room cleaners, bellhops and food-service workers. The union contract expired Aug. 14.

Hotel management told The Examiner Thursday that an impasse over union contracts is far off and that preliminary talks have been cordial.

The union, however, denies that claim, saying two months of “frustrating” negotiations have left them no choice but to set the stage for a strike.

Union members voted to authorize a strike Thursday. Health benefits, wages and length of contract are at issue, union leaders said.

A strike would not only deal a financial blow to hotels, which have had to lower room rates due to the dismal economy, but also to The City’s coffers, said Leonard Hoops, executive vice president for the San Francisco Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

“Only about a fifth of every dollar a [hotel guest spends in The City] goes to the hotel,” Hoops said. “The rest is spent on attractions, retail, transportation, food etc.”

The City and hotels lost tens of millions of dollars in revenue the last time hotel workers went on strike and were subsequently locked out in 2004.

David Nadelman, general manager for the Grand Hyatt, told The Examiner that talks are only just beginning, that both sides are bargaining in good faith and that any assumption of a strike is premature.

The hotel’s spokesman, Peter Hillan, called the strike authorization vote a bargaining formality.

The talks so far “have been cordial,” said Nadelman, who refers to his employees as “associates.”

That’s not how the union characterized the talks. In a letter to members, the union said the hotels “show no indication of compromising” and “are using the economy as an excuse” to impose contract terms that they could not achieve during the last labor dispute.

“This strike vote is certainly not an empty threat by any means,” union spokeswoman Riddhi Mehta said. “We have to do something to get them to move.”

maldax@sfexaminer.com

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