Victory for workers at D.C.‘s Madison hotel

NYHTC — June 12, 2011

152 workers at the Madison Hotel in Washington D.C. won big when, on April 2, the hotel's new owner finally agreed to honor the terms of the existing union contract, with significant improvements. After three months of picketing, the hotel signed an excellent contract with Local 25, Unite Here, and remedied the illegal firing of 27 employees.

The trouble began when, on January 19 of this year,Jamestown Properties purchased the Madison, a union hotel since it opened in 1962, and replaced the previous operator, Loews Hotels, with the union-busting management company Destination Hotels & Resorts. Local 25, which represents the workers at the hotel, reported that the new operator acted unilaterally to reject important parts of the labor agreement, eliminating jobs and putting 26 food and beverage workers and one housekeeping inspector out on the street.

Those workers were fired with zero notice the day the sale was completed. Victor Joya, who had worked in the hotel as a bartender for four years, learned he had lost his job only after he came in to work, put on his uniform, and went to the restaurant to start his shift. Management also unilaterally increased the room quota for room attendants from 14 to 16, and combined job classifications in various departments. Local 25 spokesperson Bradley Van Wauss confirmed to "Union City," the online newsletter for the AFL-CIO Metro Washington Council, that "all the hotel workers ââ¬â many of whom have worked at the Madison for decades -- were forced to re-apply for their jobs by the new owners."

For three months, through bitter cold, snow, and freezing rain, Madison workers walked the picket line, from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., and asked the public to boycott the hotel. Our union also sent some of its staff to Washington for several weeks, to help Local 25 organize members and turn up the heat on management.

The constant picketing and boycott efforts cost the hotel dearly. For example, according to the Washington Post, the National Education Association canceled two weeks worth of bookings, costing the Madison $350,000. Other unions also honored the boycott, including the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the National Football League Players Association.

On March 31, the hotel agreed to a deal that was better for the workers than the original contract management had attempted to get rid of. The Madison workers ratified the new contract enthusiastically three days later.

Under the agreement, all 27 workers were given the right to voluntarily choose either to return to their jobsor to collect an enhanced severance package. About half of them chose to return to work, and half, many of whom were employees close to retirement anyway, took the severance deal.

The new agreement also gives the housekeeping staff the right to leave work early after completing their quota, instead of having to stay until the end of their shift. The hotel also signed a me-too agreement which, as Hotel Trades Council members know, will improve the union's bargaining position in city-wide negotiations with the industry.

Thumbnail courtesy of Ed Schipul