Hotel Workers Rally
Eleven local labor contracts expiring.
Thursday, July 10, 2003
A noisy delegation from the local Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees union (HERE)--a crowd of about 85 employees--hand-delivered a 270-signature petition demanding a fair union contract to the general manager of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Monterey on Tuesday afternoon.
Housekeepers, cooks, waiters, maintenance men, switchboard operators and receptionists marched into the back corner of a dining room and asked general manager Michael Koffler for help in ongoing contract negotiations.
"The workload is too much and we don''t get paid enough for what we do," Christy Lam, a front desk person told Koffler in front of the crowd.
If they don''t get what they want, HERE members of Local 483 are threatening to strike, and representatives of union membership at Quail Lodge and La Playa in Carmel were on hand for solidarity. The current contract expires on Aug. 1.
The petition demands "a fair union contract that maintains our health insurance, includes good wage increases and protects our rights on the job."
During the rally, Koffler listened grim-faced. With negotiations in the beginning stages, Koffler told the crowd there''d be a result, but it would not be unbalanced.
"By the time this is all worked out, I''m confident we''ll come up with something that''s amicable for all the parties," he said later.
After working for Hyatt for 26 years, he called the rally "typical," but thought maybe some marchers were supposed to be at work. "Their tactics today were not really acceptable."
Asked how he felt about the potential for a strike, Koffler simply said, "It''s a terrible time to not be employed."
On July 17, the union is organizing a march and rally at Fremont and Camino Aguajito in Monterey and the union is distributing a leaflet calling on citizens to support union members.
The union maintains that housekeepers and waiters in other California cities make more per hour, while the locals are not being compensated for living in such an expensive area.
"In the union''s opinion, the contract they''re offering is worse than the one we currently have," says HERE official Mark Weller.
Hyatt is a huge company with 206 hotels around the world, from Dubai to Bishkek. Noting the wealth of the company at the rally, HERE local president Julius de Vera said, "What we''re asking for is just a little bigger piece of the pie."
Under a contract that was set in 1998 the lowest paid staff--housekeepers who do not get tips and clean up to 14 rooms a day--are paid $9.45 an hour, according to union information. Workers making tips, like waitresses, make the California minimum wage of $6.75 an hour. Front desk workers make $10.70 an hour and dishwashers make $10.31 an hour. In San Francisco, Hyatt housekeepers with HERE contracts earn $14.34 per hour. "The cost of living may be higher but it''s not that much higher," Weller says.
Later in the month the union will be meeting to discuss authorizing the contract negotiators to strike. Ten other contracts with local hotels expire this year. Some 1,200 jobs are at stake.
Should the union strike over the Hyatt or another potential impasse, it will not be the first time. In 1982, local hotel and restaurant workers struck for 17 days. According to news clips from the summer of 1982, workers stayed off the job for more than two weeks. Eventually a contract was approved by union members.
With the local economy and cities dependent on the hospitality industry, the success or failure of these contracts could make a difference at a time when local cities are economically ill.
"This is a critically important moment for the future living standards of a huge part of the Monterey Bay workforce," Weller says.
"Without better contracts, without a more secure future they won''t be able to stay around."