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California and the West

San Francisco Hotel Workers Make a Deal

The union's tentative contract with 13 hotels would run through August 2009. It offers better wages, pensions and healthcare benefits.

September 14, 2006|Kimi Yoshino | Times Staff Writer

After nearly two weeks of intense negotiations marked by picket lines and marches, San Francisco hotel workers unveiled a tentative agreement Wednesday with 13 hotels, averting a second strike in two years.

The contract, which runs through August 2009, grants higher wages, better pensions and full healthcare benefits to more than 4,200 members of Unite Here Local 2, a union of cooks, maids, bellmen and other hotel workers. They had been working without a contract for two years. The accord is retroactive to 2004.

"It shows that when we start together fighting for our rights, we can keep whatever we deserve," said Rafael Leiva, 33, who delivers room service at the Hyatt Regency.

Several other cities also are in negotiations, with unions in Toronto, Honolulu and Monterey, Calif., voting to authorize a strike. In Los Angeles, the contract expires in November and organizing battles are underway at several hotels near LAX.

National Unite Here officials said the tentative contract in San Francisco -- as well as landmark partnership agreements this summer with Hilton Hotels Corp. and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. to work toward labor peace -- are signs of the union's growth and progress this year.

"Our purpose in 2006 was to challenge the hotel industry to join with us to provide a model for good, middle-class jobs in the service sector," said John Wilhelm, Unite Here's hospitality industry president.

To go into effect, the tentative contract must be approved in a Sept. 22 vote by a majority of the union members who work at 13 San Francisco hotels: the Crowne Plaza Union Square, Fairmont, Four Seasons, Grand Hyatt, Hilton, Holiday Inn Civic Center, Holiday Inn Fisherman's Wharf, Holiday Inn Express & Suites at Fisherman's Wharf, Hyatt Regency, Mark Hopkins, Omni, Sheraton Palace and the Westin St. Francis.

"We're very, very pleased," said Noah Griffin, a spokesman for the hotel group. Pending ratification, the contract "guarantees higher wages, full healthcare benefits and security that the employees deserve. That's been our goal throughout."

Under the proposed terms, workers will be granted annual wage increases from 50 cents to $1 an hour, and pay retroactive to 2004. Some groups will get additional raises. They will continue to receive full healthcare benefits with minimal co-payments for doctor visits. In addition, the hotels doubled the benefits cap for prescription drugs to $4,000.

Workers at new and acquired hotels in San Francisco and San Mateo also will be able to join the union by signing a union card, rather than voting in a National Labor Relations Board election.

For Aurolyn Rush, 61, a switchboard operator at the Grand Hyatt, the doubling of the drug-cost limit lifts a huge burden. Rush, who has beat breast cancer twice, requires a cocktail of pills, including a prescription that costs $296 a month.

"I had to go in my pocket and pay all of that," Rush said, adding that she had been burning through the $2,000 cap by May of each year. "Now, I just feel so relieved because I don't have to worry. All that pressure is gone."


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