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L.A. Hotel Workers Vote to Back a Strike

September 15, 2004|Ronald D. White | Times Staff Writer

Nearly 2,000 waiters, housekeepers and other union workers at nine upscale Los Angeles County hotels set the table for a strike, labor leaders said Tuesday, hoping for added leverage in stalled contract negotiations.

About 75% of the roughly 2,800 members of the Unite Here union cast ballots Monday, and 83% of them authorized the union to strike. The vote doesn't launch a strike, but it gives union leaders the right to call one should labor talks fail.

Hotel workers in San Francisco and Washington also authorized strikes.

"Hotel workers work from paycheck to paycheck. This shows that they are pretty fed up," said Maria Elena Durazo, president of Los Angeles Local 11 of Unite Here.

The hotels took the vote in stride. "We hope there is no strike. Everybody loses in a strike," said spokesman Fred Muir. "We are doing what we can to avoid this by staying at the bargaining table and working with a mediator."

Durazo said the strike authorization was necessary leverage against the hotels, which have an agreement to lock out union workers if Unite Here strikes just one.

The agreement also requires all nine to abide by an "offensive lockout" -- essentially a work stoppage imposed by employers -- if six are in favor.

Experts differed Tuesday on the effect of a strike or a lockout at the nine hotels, whose 5,600 rooms account for nearly 10% of the first-class lodging in Los Angeles County.

"This is an innovative union that would likely mobilize broader community support, and the hotels could feel that. You don't want to pay these kind of room rates while workers are out complaining about not being able to get by," said Harley Shaiken, a UC Berkeley professor specializing in labor issues. "The impact of a strike in luxury hotels in a market like L.A. could be significant."

But others disagreed.

"It would be an annoyance to the hotels. I'm not anticipating any kind of material impact on business," said Carl Winston, who directs the hospitality and tourism management program at San Diego State University. "They would be more concerned about the picketers being rowdy around their guests."

Negotiations between the union and the hotels began in March but have stalled over contract length. The union wants a two-year contract to coincide with negotiations in eight other cities and Hawaii, giving it added bargaining muscle.

The Los Angeles hotels are pushing for a five-year contract. The hotels also want workers to assume more of the cost of healthcare.

In San Francisco, about 77% of 4,000 workers at 14 hotels voted Tuesday, and about 97% of them authorized a strike. In Washington, about 60% of 3,400 workers at 14 hotels voted Monday, and nearly 95% were in favor of a strike.

Negotiations in Los Angeles and San Francisco have been on hold this week, but Peter J. Hurtgen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, has been talking separately with union and hotel officials.

The nine hotels are the Hyatt Regency Los Angeles, Hyatt West Hollywood, Millennium Biltmore, Regent Beverly Wilshire, Sheraton Universal, St. Regis, Westin Bonaventure, Westin Century Plaza and Wilshire Grand.

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Associated Press was used in compiling this report.

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