Union workers at Hyatt hotels say strike likely after difficult negotiations.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
The last time hundreds of hotel workers held a labor strike in Monterey was in 1982. It may happen again, as soon as the end of the month, during hotels’ busy summer travel season.
In ‘82, Teresa Conner participated in labor action that lasted 17 days before hotel officials caved in to many worker demands, which included things like sick and holiday pay.
“It was horrible,” says Conner, a 27-year employee for the Hyatt Regency of Monterey. “There were arrests and a lot of fights. The animosity was huge when we eventually went back to work.”
Today, Conner is readying herself for the possibility of another hospitality labor strike in Monterey. On Aug. 16, Conner and other members of the UNITE HERE Local 483 union will meet with Hyatt officials in a final effort to nail down a new labor contract for 250 workers at the Hyatt Regency and another 180 workers at the Park Hyatt Carmel Highlands.
Labor contracts at the hotels expired July 31, but were extended until Aug. 17 with the hope that both sides could find a solution to the negotiation impasse. Union members and Hyatt officials have already held six meetings. However, union negotiators say an agreement with Hyatt officials is still a ways off. They’ve already scheduled a strike vote for Aug. 23, and a march and rally for Aug. 31.
While pay and the length of the next contract are contentious issues (workers want a three-year contract and company officials proposed a five-year contract), the big stumbling block appears to be how much workers will be required to pay towards their health insurance plans.
“They’re asking us to do a co-payment for our health insurance, which could range from a fee of $50 to $100 per month for most employees,” says Kendra Weeks, a Hyatt Regency worker and a member of the union’s negotiating committee. “We’re just asking to keep the insurance plan we already have.”
There is a lot riding on the negotiations with Hyatt. According to Mark Weller, a UNITE HERE organizer, the Hyatt negotiations—because they are historically the first to come online—will “set the tone and pace for other agreements” between Monterey Peninsula hotels and workers.
Julius deVera, president of UNITE HERE Local 483, says it’s more than that. Unionized workers from different hotels on the Peninsula share essentially the same health insurance and pension fund, so whatever agreement stems from the Hyatt negotiations will impact the ability of workers from other local hotels to negotiate their plans.
Weller says it’s “highly unlikely” that a strike vote will be avoided on Aug. 23. Eight union members who are on the negotiating committee with Hyatt officials echoed Weller’s opinion. If union members approve a strike, then the negotiating committee will have the authority to start a strike whenever they want.
“We don’t have much of a choice,” Weeks says. “We can’t pay less for food, gas or our rent.”
Elizabeth Garcia, a housekeeper supervisor at the Hyatt Regency, says workers are ready to go on strike. In fact, the union has been preparing for the possibility of one for months. The union has been collecting an extra $10 a month in fees from its approximately 1,700 members on the Peninsula.
“We’ve almost reached $200,000 in our strike fund,” deVera says.
Russ Melaragni, executive director of labor relations for Hyatt Hotels, was unavailable for comment at press time. However, Joe McInerney, president and CEO of American Hotel and Lodging Association, says there has been much less labor unrest than expected in the industry nationwide.
“The anticipation that it would be a very disruptive year has fizzled,” McInerney says, citing successful negotiations in New York and other cities.
However, locally, it might turn out to be a different story. The UNITE HERE workers on the negotiating committee complain that the rising cost of living is making it difficult for them to make ends meet. Hotel managers have also argued that it’s becoming very difficult to recruit and retain hospitality workers in the area, resulting in staff shortages in many hotels.
Manuela Poole, an employee at Quail Lodge, where another
labor contract expires Aug. 31, says the labor struggle is
about survival. “Most Peninsula hotel workers stay at the same
hotel for a long time and show loyalty,” Poole says. “We love
where we work, but we will fight for what we need.”
Estimated minimum value of 175 cars assembled on Pebble Beach Golf Course’s 18th fairway this Sunday, Aug. 20, an amount approximately equal to the GDP of Tonga. Source: The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.