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Union in Puerto Rico makes economic demandsNoticias desde la GastronÃÂ³mica - November 5, 2009
Union contract negotiations took place on Friday October 15 at the ILA building. On Thursday, the day before the negotiations, the Union's Negotiating Committee met and agreed on an initial wage proposal consisting of: an across-the- board raise of $.60 per hour for non-tipped employees and $.30 per hour for tipped employees, and a plan for closing the wide gap between wage rates paid to employee within the same job classifications.
Union negotiators forwarded the wage proposal to Hilton representatives on Thursday night to give them time to produce an initial estimate of the total cost to the company of the union's major economic proposals. Because the Union and management were still awaiting quotes from insurance companies for an improved health plan, the Union advised Hilton to assume it would propose, for the El San Juan and Condado employees the same Triple-S Plan that currently covers the Caribe Hilton workers. The Union also told management that it intended to propose a maintenance-of-benefits provision to protect the employee pension plan.
On Friday morning, Hilton gave the union a spreadsheet containing its cost estimate for the Union's proposal (not including the pension proposal). According to Hilton's calculations, the wage and health care proposal would increase Hilton's labor costs by 20-21% in the first year.
As he handed over the spreadsheet, Desi Massey, Hilton's chief negotiator complained, "I have never seen a wage proposal this large, never!" Union negotiator Peter Ward simply responded, "There is a first time for everything."
Unwilling to accept Hilton's calculations at face value, Union negotiator Michael Simo questioned Hilton's lawyer, Rick Delello, about the methodology and information used to produce the calculations. It soon became apparent that there were substantial errors in Hilton's numbers. Peter Ward explained to union negotiating committee members and others in the union caucus, "We shouldn't accept the accuracy of these numbers just because Hilton gave them to us." He added, "I am not comfortable rushing to an agreement on this, we have to be just as confident in our understanding of their numbers as they are." He also explained that Hilton's cost analysis was based on the anticipated coast of the Triple S medical plan. The Union Negotiating Committee agreed that in order to verify Hilton's calculations and get an official quote from Triple S, a contract extension would be a good idea.
When management returned to the table, they agreed to extend the contract, to give the Union access to any information it needed to verify Hilton's cost estimate, and to assign Dora Soler, Human Resources Director at the Caribe, to help clarify current hotel practices regarding seniority, scheduling and any other operational questions the Union needed to answer in drafting its counter-proposals.
Kenneth Torres, Condado committee member, commented, "Of course the proposed wage increase and medical plan is expensive for Hilton- they have been getting away with underpaying us and providing terrible benefits for too long." He added, "Now it's time for some basic fairness for Hilton workers in Puerto Rico."
Because the session was largely devoted to the union's economic proposal, there was little discussion about the outstanding "respect" issues and other miscellaneous proposals. However, management agreed to the Union's proposal that management furnish sun protection (sunblock and a cap or hat) to employees who primarily work outdoors, such as lifeguards, pool attendants and landscapers; and sneakers for pool attendants. Also, Peter Ward asked the Hilton negotiating team to take the message back to the Corporation that the Union was very serious about its proposal to eliminate the practice of random drug testing. He suggested that if the Company reversed its position on this issue of basic dignity, the workers would interpret the gesture as a sign of good faith and respect.