Yearlong standoff costing tourism industry

Ringo Mack has made a career out of being a waiter at the Hilton in downtown San Francisco — supporting his family for the past 30 years.

But as the 59-year-old Hong Kong immigrant nears retirement age, Mack says protecting his pension and keeping his health care costs low is critical.

That’s why Mack joined his members of Unite Here Local 2 on Thursday at the picket line — again.

“We need a fair contract,” Mack said from outside the hotel.

This month marks one year of a labor dispute that’s had a rippling effect across San Francisco, from employee morale to hotel occupancy and depressed tourism.

The issue: 61 hotels struggling in the worst economy since the Great Depression, 31 of which have been victims of employee work stoppages and boycotts reminiscent of the two-year-old labor dispute that started in 2004.

On the other side: 9,000 hotel workers, including waiters, bellmen and housekeepers. Their union wants changes in work loads, protected pension plans and limited health care costs.

Tourism is San Francisco’s No. 1 industry. It hosted 15.4 million visitors in 2009, including hotel guests, those staying with friends and relatives and those just visiting.

These visitors support the local economy and result in $426 million in tax and fee revenue to the city and county of San Francisco in 2009.

Part of that income comes from conventions and meetings. A total of 10 conventions and meetings have either canceled or opted not to come to San Francisco this year, citing labor issues as one of the reasons, according to the Convention & Visitors Bureau.

That lost business has cost San Francisco more than $8 million this year in hotel rooms, transportation, retail sales and visitor
attractions, the CVB says.

“That just scratches the surface,” said Leonard Hoops, executive vice president and chief customer officer for the CVB.

While the boycotts and strikes scare some business away from The City, they haven’t led to resolution of the labor issue.  
Riddhi Mehta, a representative with Local 2, said there has been little progress and as of now there are no dates set to continue negotiations.

“We certainly hope to move forward and that these actions and demonstrations will put pressure on these hotel corporations,” Mehta said.

Richard Curiale, chief negotiator for Starwood Hotels, which represents the St. Regis, Palace, Westin St. Francis and W hotels, did not return phone calls.

The union remains confident it will prevail, basing that in part on the 2004 labor dispute that lasted two years. During those boycotts, hotels locked out workers for 53 days. In the end, union members were able to secure many of their needs, including affordable health care, Mehta said.

The disruptions are bothering tourism now, but hotels are even more concerned about the long-term effect of these patterned disputes, said Patricia Breslin, executive director for the San Francisco Hotel Council.

“The question is, has the union established a precedent that will make meeting planners nervous?” Breslin said. “We want both sides back to the table — anything other than that sends a destructive message.”

SF tourism

2009
– 15.4 million visitors, came to The City, a 5.8 percent decrease from 2008.
– Visitors spent $7.8 billion, a decrease of 7.8 percent from 2008.

2010
– 10 conventions canceled plans or opted not to come to S.F.
– Equal to 5,700 hotel rooms not booked
– Lost revenue of $8.8 million

Source: Convention & Visitors Bureau

esherbert@sfexaminer.com

Bay Area NewsGovernment & PoliticsLocalPolitics

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Construction in the Better Market Street Project between Fifth and Eighth streets is expected to break ground in mid-2021.<ins></ins>
SFMTA board to vote on Better Market Street changes

Agency seeks to make up for slimmed-down plan with traffic safety improvements

Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Currey (30) tallied 26 points and seven assists at Monday night’s game against the Lakers. (Chris Victorio for the S.F. Examiner).
Warriors overcome 19-point deficit to stun defending-champion Lakers 115-113

Ladies and gentlemen, the Golden State Warriors are officially back. Stephen Curry… Continue reading

U.S. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris speaks during an event to name President-elect Joe Biden’s economic team at the Queen Theater on Dec. 1, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (Alex Wong/Getty Images/TNS)
Kamala Harris to resign from Senate

Bridget Bowman CQ-Roll Call Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will resign from the… Continue reading

A view of Science Hall at the City College of San Francisco Ocean campus on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
CCSF begins search for next chancellor amid new challenges

‘It’s arguably the biggest single responsibility the board has,’ trustee says

Some people are concerned that University of California, San Francisco’s expansion at its Parnassus campus could cause an undesirable increase in the number of riders on Muni’s N-Judah line.<ins></ins>
Will UCSF’s $20 million pledge to SFMTA offset traffic woes?

An even more crowded N-Judah plus increased congestion ahead cause concern

Most Read