While eight prominent Los Angeles-area hotels dig in their heels in a protracted contract fight with union workers, others are quietly making labor peace.
The Hotel Bel-Air, Luxe Hotel Rodeo Drive, Sportsmen's Lodge and Radisson Wilshire Plaza have accepted the Unite Here union's demand for a 2006 contract expiration date. Several hotel managers described the pacts with Unite Here as good deals, with minimal wage increases and an agreement by the union to subsidize rising healthcare costs for two years from a trust fund reserve.
"We are definitely content with the terms of our agreement," Carlos Lopes, managing director of the five-star Hotel Bel-Air, said Wednesday. "I think it worked out for all the parties."
The contrast between those easy settlements and the tooth-and-nail fight between Unite Here Local 11 and the Los Angeles Hotel Employer's Council highlights the divergence of interests between independent and small-chain hotels and those in bigger national chains.
The council represents the latter. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., which operates hotels under the Sheraton, Westin, St. Regis and W brands, accounts for two of eight votes on the council. Hyatt Corp., another major chain, has two more.
The union is trying to match the big chains' power by lining up contracts across the country to expire in 2006. That would open the door to coordinated job actions, even a national strike. Major hotel operators are strongly opposed to granting the union that much power.
But the independent and small-chain hotels "don't have a problem with the expiration, because they don't have a multinational corporation dictating to them what they can and cannot settle for," said Local 11 President Maria Elena Durazo.
Fred Muir, a spokesman for the hotel council, said the four hotels that settled were less likely to be targeted in a big labor confrontation. Together, they employ 570 union members, versus 2,600 at council hotels.
"The independents are just standing by and waiting for us to fight the fight," Muir said. "They know they'll largely ride our coattails ultimately."
Durazo said the union offered the same two-year deal to the council in mid-December. She said it remained on the table, along with a costlier three-year proposal the council rejected Monday.
Muir, however, said the four smaller hotels received better terms than ever were offered to the council. He noted that Local 11 recently signed a five-year contract with the Hilton Pasadena that guaranteed less in wages and benefits than the council is currently offering.
"We would sign that right now," he said.
According to Durazo, who called the Hilton Pasadena contract substandard, the union was operating from a position of relative weakness in negotiating that deal because that hotel's employees only recently joined Local 11. She added that the Hilton, the only Pasadena hotel represented by the union, was never included in the 2006 strategic plan.
The union's strength in the Los Angeles area varies by neighborhood. It's strong in downtown Los Angeles, where about 60% of hotel workers are represented, and to a lesser extent in Beverly Hills and Century City, where nearly half are in unions. Labor contracts for most hotels in those areas expired in the spring. The union also represents about half of hotel workers in Santa Monica, but their contract isn't up for renewal.
Three other union hotels with open contracts aren't part of the council. Durazo said the union would approach them next, starting with the Holiday Inn in downtown L.A.
Council members have agreed to negotiate as one until a contract is signed. In a strike or lockout, they have promised to act in concert with the majority. Negotiations are set to resume today, but neither side was optimistic.
Council members are the Westin Bonaventure, Wilshire Grand Hotel and Centre, Millennium Biltmore, Sheraton Universal, Hyatt Regency Los Angeles, Hyatt West Hollywood, Westin Century Plaza and Regent Beverly Wilshire. A ninth member, the St. Regis, was converted to condominiums.
Wayne Williams, an asset manager who negotiated the Radisson Wilshire Plaza's contract, said owners of that franchised hotel were not concerned with a strike, national or otherwise.
"Our relationship with the union in this hotel has always been on good terms," he said.