The hotel workers union claimed a significant victory Friday in its effort to line up labor contracts to expire simultaneously next year, a strategy that would give it greater bargaining clout and allow it to call a nationwide strike.
The union said the Beverly Hilton signed a union contract that expires in 2006, becoming the first major chain hotel in the Los Angeles area to do so.
The deal was announced Friday by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, who said he helped broker it. Officials of the union, Unite Here, touted the agreement as a possible "tipping point" in their long-running dispute with prominent area hotels that have opposed their national strategy for more than a year.
Union officials said they needed the power to call a nationwide strike or other coordinated actions to be able to effectively bargain with hotel chains. Already, Boston, New York and Chicago hotels have agreed to 2006 contract expirations, but major Los Angeles hotels strongly oppose the idea.
Unite Here, which also represents textile and laundry workers, is using a similar approach in its dealings with Angelica Corp., the nation's largest hospital laundry contractor. With local contracts expired at seven laundry plants around the country, the union threatened a nationwide strike last week but called it off after saying that progress was being made in the talks.
No Beverly Hilton representative appeared at the news conference called by the union and Nunez to announced the deal, and no one from the hotel was willing to talk on the record about the pact, an indication of sensitivity within the industry.
Five smaller hotels -- the Hotel Bel-Air, Radisson Wilshire Plaza, Luxe Summit Rodeo Drive, Sportsmen's Lodge and Holiday Inn Los Angeles-City Center -- already have contracts that expire next year.
The Los Angeles Hotel Employer's Council, which represents eight major hotels and has taken the lead in negotiations with Unite Here, has not altered its position in the wake of the latest pact, spokesman Fred Muir said. The 570-room Beverly Hilton, which is in Beverly Hills, is not part of the council.
"The council is still steadfast in its position," Muir said. "These hotels will not accept a 2006 expiration date."
Council members are the Millennium Biltmore, Westin Bonaventure, Wilshire Grand, Hyatt Regency, Sheraton Universal, Regent Beverly Wilshire, Hyatt West Hollywood and Westin Century Plaza.
A ninth hotel, the St. Regis, had been a council member, but it has been sold and is being converted into condominiums.
The Hyatt Regency also is in the process of being sold (it will continue to be a hotel), and Muir said the new owners were unlikely to join the council. The Biltmore also is on the market.
The union called for a boycott against the hotel council members nearly a year ago after their contract expired. The union said it had verified $13 million in canceled business at the eight hotels so far, with the Century Plaza taking the biggest hit. Several significant union conventions, including a meeting of the AFL-CIO's executive council, were moved to other cities.
The hotels have not quantified their losses. But they have said the boycott is hurting the local economy by diverting conventions and meetings elsewhere.
Nunez, a former union official who has kept close ties to organized labor, said he had been in touch with some managers of hotels in the council and had urged them to settle. He said that some managers were stubborn about the 2006 date, but that others were willing to make a deal to stop the boycott.
Muir said any deal made now would cover less than a year's time. "We don't want to do this again in 11 months," he said. "That doesn't make sense on any level."