NEWPORT BEACH — In a bid to crack the South County hotel market, the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union is seeking to organize more than 215 workers at the landmark 410-room Hyatt Newporter.
It is the first unionizing effort of a major hotel in Orange County in the 1990s, according to union officials.
Organizers said this week that they showed Hyatt Newporter management signatures of support from 75% of the workers. But managers rebuffed the union's request for voluntary recognition, setting the stage for what figures to be a hotly contested union representation vote.
The date of the election hasn't been set because the National Labor Relations Board's offices remain closed due to the partial federal government shutdown. Under federal labor rules, signatures of at least 30% of the workers are required to initiate an election, though support of a majority of those voting is needed to win union certification.
Eulalio Delgado, a room service waiter at the Hyatt Newporter for the last six years, said he and other workers contacted the union about six months ago.
"We don't have any voice. They don't listen to us," said Delgado, who is 53 and earns about $1,600 a month, including tips. Delgado said he has not had a raise in six years, and complained about the way tips are distributed and the general treatment of workers. "The only way we're going to get any respect is if we are a union," he said.
Barry Lewin, the hotel's general manager, said workers are paid competitively and treated fairly. "I feel very confident our employees do not feel they need third-party representation," he said.
The 34-year-old Hyatt Newporter was the first resort hotel built in Newport Beach. The federal Resolution Trust Corp. had owned the building since 1991, when it took control from failed Columbia Savings & Loan. The hotel was sold about a year ago for $7.1 million to a partnership that includes Seattle-based WestCoast Hotels.
The organizing drive at the Hyatt Newporter is part of a broader campaign by Local 681 to strengthen its presence in Orange County. Local 681 represents about 5,000 workers, including employees at the Anaheim Hilton, the Grand Hotel and the Disneyland Hotel.
But except for those few along the Disneyland corridor, the other hotels in Orange County by and large are nonunion, and none in South County is organized.
Alberto Mejia-Moreno, Local 681's organizing director, asserted that workers at a union hotel in Orange County generally earn at least $1 an hour more and receive better benefits than their counterparts in nonunion hotels such as the Hyatt Newporter. Lewin declined to comment about specific wages and benefits for workers, saying that was confidential.