D.C. hotel workers win best contract in their union’s 70 year history

June 4, 2012 8:00 PM

With some solidarity from our union, and because of strong action by its members, Local 25, the union for hotel workers in Washington D.C., has finally won a long and bitter fight against an alliance of the major hotel chains, obtaining the best contract in its 70 year history. The new contract was ratified on May 2 by a 99.5% "YES!" vote of Local 25 members.

Local 25's contract expired on September 15, 2010. Stubborn and hostile bargaining by the employers caused the membership of Local 25 to work without a contract for more than 18 months and without a raise for more than two years. In recent negotiations, the same companies (Hyatt, Marriott, Omni and Hilton) also forced the hotel unions in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Honolulu to go without contracts for extended periods, ranging from 12 to 18 months.

"It is clear that the industry has been aggressive and belligerent in negotiations with their employees across the country, with few exceptions," comments Hotel Trades Council President Peter Ward.

Local 25's economic proposals were moderate: a fair wage increase, the preservation of its members' health insurance, adequate funding of their pension plan, and a long-term contract. Unfortunately, the industry uniformly refused to budge throughout months of frustrating negotiations. Management's proposed raise was an insulting 30¢ per hour for non-tipped employees.

The leader of Local 25, Executive Secretary Treasurer John Boardman, devised a plan of action to turn up the heat on management and break the logjam in negotiations. In March, at Boardman's request, the Hotel Trades Council and Local 6 sent a team of 24 organizers, representatives and other staff, led by HTC General Organizer Jim Donovan, to assist the Local 25 staff in executing that plan to organize the union's membership for escalating actions and a possible strike. Almost immediately after reinforcements arrived, management reluctantly and slowly started making movement toward a settlement, offering higher wage increases, and settling a number of important non-economic issues. In a typical "divide and conquer" tactic, the employers also handed out letters in the shops aimed at persuading the workers that the union was being unreasonable in the negotiations.

"Nobody believed any of that management propaganda," comments room attendant Kim Murray of the Hyatt Regency Hotel. "We just got ourselves organized to picket the hotels."

On April 18th, Local 25 members started a strong "work and walk" picket line at the city's largest hotel, the Marriott Wardman Park. On the first day of picketing, over 500 members from every Local 25 shop converged on the Marriott. From then on, the picket lines were loud and extremely effective. The union used an innovative "text blast" network, which it calls UBN (Union Broadcasting Network) to send text updates about negotiations and actions to thousands of members' cell phones. The union kept management off balance by using that texting system every evening to announce new target hotels so members would know where to report for picket duty the next day and so that managers never knew whether their hotel would get an early morning wake-up call with bullhorn-toting picketers.

Within eight weeks of ramping up the fight, the union was able to drag the industry, kicking and screaming, to a settlement. The union won a five and a half year contract, a raise of $4.35 for non-tipped employees (which amounts to 27.2% over the term of the agreement), an increase in pension contributions of 50%, secured health care for the whole contract, and a bonus of $1,000 for non-tipped employees (in retroactive compensation for having waited 18 months for a contract). Also the union won important new contract rights, such as the same immigrant rights, panic button provisions, and protections against spotters contained in New York's Industry-Wide Agreement.

The members were elated at the result. They packed the United Asbury Church for the ratification vote and approved the contract by a 99.5% landslide. The members also loudly and warmly expressed their gratitude to the Hotel Trades Council for its help in their time of need.