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Five days of negotiations in Puerto Rico: Slow pace, some progress

Noticias desde la Gastronomica - September 28, 2009 Share/Save/Bookmark

Union negotiations with Hilton, began on September 9th and lasted for 5 days. Held in the Colegio de Abogados, on Ave Ponce de Leon, the negotiations were heavily attended by employees from the three Hilton hotels. On the last day, close to 300 Hilton employees attended the negotiations. As Mary Ann Colon explained "At first I came to the negotiations because I knew that a big crowd would show management how united we are and give our negotiators more power at the table. But, to tell you the truth, I kept coming because I didn't want to miss any of it. It's been really incredible to see Felix's negotiating team in action."

Throughout the negotiations, Hilton agreed to several of the union's most important proposals, including a complete overhaul of the current contract's grievance and arbitration procedures, new protections against unfair promotions policies, expanded union rights to information, union visitation, and more.

 

On the first day of negotiations, union negotiators explained that their strategy was to "lay out a convincing case for changing the underlying culture in the three Hilton Hotels." For this reason, much of the first day, and frequently, throughout the five days, many members stood up in the negotiations and gave personal accounts of management disrespect, unjust disciplinary practice, ignored sexual harassment reports, and more as they related to the unions case for additional contract protections.

On the final day of negotiations, Marilyn Diaz Negron, server at the ESJ Hotel, stood up to explain how HR director, Waleska Otero, did little to address Marilyn's report that Hugo Castro, the Hotel's F&B director, had sexually harassed her. Marilyn explained that in a meeting she had with Waleska about the sexual harassment, Waleska, a known friend of Hugo's and member of the F&B director's self-proclaimed social group, "The Untouchables" said "I am close friends with Hugo Castro." Marilyn said she interpreted this as a subtle form of intimidation. At the time, Waleska said she would conduct an investigation into the matter, but did not report her findings to Marilyn a legal obligations when a sexual harassment case is reported. At this point in Marilyn's testimony Peter asked, "Did you conduct an investigation? Did you discipline Hugo Castro?"

Waleska responded that she did conduct an investigation and that she "talked to Hugo Castro about his behavior." Peter responded, "We'd like a copy of all materials relating to this investigation." Ward then addressed Marilyn directly " Marilyn, if you want to take legal action against the hotel, the union will help you find a lawyer and pay for your legal fees." Mildred, a bar tender at the ESJ, said "I personally applaud Marilyn for being brave enough to stand up and report this serious case of not only harassment, but of Waleska failing to do her legal duty and conduct a comprehensive investigation and actually discipline the guy for his disgusting behavior."

The pace of the negotiations was slow. Hilton's negotiating team would retreat from the negotiating table to call Barry Lewin and ask for his approval on the majority of decisions made. Whenever the two sides of negotiators started making some real headway towards a deal, Hilton's lawyer Desi Massey, warned "I am not in a position to agree to this without first checking it with my constituents." On the third day of negotiations, Hilton's self-purported inability to make any real decisions at the table came to a head. Peter Ward, President of Local 6 and Local 610's negotiator, said, "Desi, this is ridiculous, it's obvious that you do not have the authority to negotiate with us and that means Hilton is intentionally delaying negotiations. That's bargaining in bad faith. Instead of wasting our time calling King Lewin 5 times a day, why don't we invite Barry Lewin here to talk to us in person?" At, which point, Ward took out his cell phone and called Barry Lewin on speakerphone, so the whole room could hear. Barry did not answer the phone, so Peter left a message saying "Barry why don't you come down to the negotiations and grace us all with your presence instead of wasting our time." Instead of staying for the last two hours of negotiations, which at that point were not yielding any progress, union members and negotiators decided to head to the Condado Plaza Hotel, where Barry Lewin lives.

Efrain Alvarez (Caribe) said, "We all knew what we had to do. Barry Lewin wouldn't pick up his phone, so we went to his house. I hope Hilton gets the message that they better send someone with authority to negotiate with us."

Related Issues: Hilton Hotels Corporation, Local 610 Contract Fight, Puerto Rico