On eve of last-ditch negotiation, labor march is peaceful.
Thursday, September 7, 2006
A long line of people in red shirts snaked their way along the road towards the Hyatt Regency of Monterey last Thursday evening during a labor march that appeared at the time to be a prelude to a strike.
Nearly 600 people, most of them workers at two Hyatt Corporation-owned hotels on the Monterey Peninsula, participated in the march, which slowed traffic for nearly an hour on Mark Thomas Drive.
The action was the largest labor march in Monterey history. But its impact on the local area was minimal. While labor marches in other parts of the world often make their presence felt by blocking traffic and taking over main arteries, this march was not disruptive.
Marchers chanted and carried signs as they walked in single file along the sidewalk—not the street—from behind the Monterey Travelodge up Fairgrounds Boulevard and to Mark Thomas Drive until they reached the Hyatt Regency. At different intervals, organizers briefly halted the parade of people who were crossing the street in order to let a long line of cars get through, easing the nerves of impatient commuters who were trying to get home.
While well behaved, participants nonetheless expressed strong feelings regarding the contract negotiations taking place between 485 workers at two Hyatt hotels and the Unite Here Local 483 union that represents them. They also said they remained ready to strike if Hyatt officials did not come up with a better contract proposal.
“If they weren’t listening to us before, they’re listening now,” said Karen Rangel, a Monterey Peninsula College student and volunteer for the union. “We’re in a struggle for our rights as workers.”
Currently, workers at the Hyatt Regency of Monterey and the Park Hyatt in Carmel Highlands are negotiating a labor contract that will have large ramifications for the local hospitality industry, which employs about one-third of all workers on the Monterey Peninsula.
The labor contract for the two Hyatt hotels is the first one being negotiated on the Monterey Peninsula this year. Labor organizers say its outcome—whether a strike or a mutual agreement—will undoubtedly set the tone for a slew of upcoming negotiations at hotels like Quail Lodge, the Monterey Beach Resort and the Carmel Mission Inn.
More than 1,000 hospitality workers are having their contracts renegotiated on the Monterey Peninsula this year.
The most difficult item on the negotiating table remains health insurance. Hyatt company officials have proposed that workers contribute payments toward their health benefits ranging from $50 for single workers to $100 for those with families. Workers have balked at the proposal, calling it a slap in the face. On Aug. 23, they voted to approve a strike.
At 10am on Tuesday, Sept. 5, negotiators for both sides met for what appeared to be a last-ditch attempt to resolve the standoff. Early results from the meeting were that little progress was being made on the health insurance and wage proposals, according to Mark Weller, a Unite Here Local 483 projects coordinator.
Weller added that workers have scheduled a picket line in front of the Park Hyatt at 4pm on Friday, Sept 8.
While the meeting continued past the Weekly’s deadline, there was reason to be hopeful. In Chicago on Sunday, Sept. 3, nearly 2,000 workers represented by Unite Here reached a tentative contract agreement with four Hyatt hotels. That leaves pending negotiations for Hyatt workers in three cities: San Francisco, Honolulu and Monterey.
Weller says the whole point of the union’s firm negotiating stance with the Hyatt is to help save the region’s middle class from oblivion. “We’re all in the same boat here,” Weller said as dozens of teachers and UFW members walked alongside hospitality workers at last week’s march. “We all need to be united to start to take back the American dream.”
|THE WEEKLY TALLY||30||
The number of additional portable restrooms leased by Monterey Beer Festival organizers for their Sept. 9 event, a year after an unexpected boom in attendance led to very long bathroom lines. Source: Monterey Beer Festival.