Union, Palace in war of words over strike

Workers at the Palace Hotel walked off the job Tuesday morning, taking to the streets with picket signs, drums and whistles.

The action is the second three-day strike at a San Francisco hotel in as many weeks, despite the involvement of Mayor Gavin Newsom, who rushed home from a Hawaiian vacation last week to address the labor dispute.

Approximately 350 workers are participating in Tuesday’s strike, which began at 4 a.m.

Members of Unite Here! Local 2 held a strike last week involving 300 workers at the Grand Hyatt Union Square. Workers say they will continue to urge boycotts at San Francisco’s hotels if talks remain stalled. Workers at 29 other upscale San Francisco hotels have authorized work stoppages if necessary, union officials said.

The union contract expired Aug. 14. At issue are health benefits, wages and the length of the contract, according to labor leaders. Hotel management has proposed deals lasting several years, while union leaders are pushing for a one-year contract in anticipation of an economic recovery, according to Riddhi Mehta, union spokeswoman.

Workers point out the Palace’s parent company, Starwood Hotels and Resorts, earned $180 million in profits during the first nine months of the year and its stock price has risen 85 percent since Jan. 1

“There has never been a question of whether they can afford what’s on the table,” said Mike Casey, President of Local 2. “The question is whether these companies will make a business decision that’s in the best interests of workers, The City, and the hotels themselves.”

Rich Curiale, chief negotiator for The Palace Hotel, said the union was being unreasonable.

“There’s no issue on the table that’s worth this kind of response,” Curiale said. “The union is playing the part of the big bad wolf – give me what I want, exactly how I want it, or I’ll blow your house down. Unfortunately, the house is the city of San Francisco, it’s the hotel, it’s the employees.”

Curiale said Starwood did propose a generous one-year contract and that the current dispute is focused solely on health care.

Workers have paid $10 a month for benefits since 1972, and Starwood would like to raise it to $15 in the first year of the contract to cover Kaiser’s price increase, he said. Starwood currently pays $1,080 a month per employee toward benefits, according to Curiale.

On Monday, Newsom met with managers of four major hotel chains and the union representing 9,000 workers at 61 city hotels for what was described as an informational session. A federal mediator attended but only listened to both sides, an attendee said.

The Palace is functioning normally during the strike, Curiale said.

tbarak@sfexaminer.com
 

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