DC Hotel Association refuses to back down

By DONNA BORAK   |   Sept. 17, 2004 at 11:18 PM
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 17 (UPI) -- The ongoing dispute between hotel workers and hotel management escalated today as The Hotel Association of Washington, D.C. filed a petition earlier this afternoon against the 14 hotel unions for "surface bargaining."

The two parties have been clashing over negotiations all week on contract length issues along with work conditions and pay, causing delays in settling a new contract, which expired on Monday.

The hotel management filed an unfair labor practice charge against UNITE HERE Local 25, who is representing workers at 14 hotels, for refusing to bargain in good faith. They filed the charge with the Baltimore National Labor Relations Office.

"The hotels have repeatedly tried to discuss wages and benefits and the union has refused. It became clear as the contract neared expiration that the union has been ordered to get a two year contract or nothing," said Lynn Lawson, spokeswoman for the Hotel Association of Washington, D.C.

As of 5:00 p.m. Friday, John Boardman, Executive-Secretary of Local 25 said he had not received a copy of the charge from hotel management.

"I find it laughable, that the management side can accuse us of surface bargaining," he said, citing several incidents when the management has been allegedly uncooperative in refusing to meet to discuss bargaining issues and walked away from the bargaining table on Wednesday.

"They are the ones not interested in bargaining. They're claiming that progress is not being made, and that we're stalling," said Boardman, earlier in the day.

The most contentious issue between the two parties has been the contract-length, which has caused a stalemate in negotiations.

The association has said that maintaining a three-year contract is in the best interests of the hotel employees because of the determinant of skyrocketing healthcare costs. Without a three-year agreement, there is no assurance that hotels will be able to lock down health insurance rates, said Lawson. Currently, no unionized employees pay for healthcare coverage.

Should the contract change to two-years, "it will leave parties (unions) open to the possibility of having to pay skyrocketing health care costs," out-of-pocket, said Lawson.

Though Boardman confirmed that union employees do not pay for health coverage currently and have never in the past, he believed that it was a "scare tactic" on the side of the management.

In an earlier interview Friday, Boardman said that the dispute was not over the economic demands like higher wages and healthcare, but rather that the focus of their dispute was on obtaining "dignity and respect" for union members.

He said that some of the contentions resided over meal breaks, addressing workload issues, the ability to bargain and to have a quick and speedy grievance process.

However, though the union did not cite the two-year contract as the main focus, it would be a considered a victory for its members. If successful in achieving the two-year contract, there is a strong possibility that it would help leverage the union's bargaining power in future contract negotiations. The union is hoping to sign on with multi-international companies like Hyatt, Marriott, Starwood and Hilton in 2006, when their revised contract expires.

The charge filed against the union came on the same day when hotel management was expected to send a letter to Local Union 25 representatives to arrange for a meeting to discuss several of the issues on the table. According to the letter, management requested a meeting for either Tuesday or Wednesday of next week at a "mutually agreeable" time.

This has been the second communication between the two parties, since the hotel management walked out of the bargaining meetings on Wednesday. Yesterday, management sent a letter to the union expressing their intention to set up a meeting.

"We are prepared to meet," said Lawson. "This puts the ball is his (John Boardman's) court."

Boardman confirmed receipt of today's letter, saying that he was open to bargaining but had to check with his negotiating team to find out if those dates were open.

He also said that the letter stated that the hotel management wanted the union "to substantially modify its position."

When asked what that meant, he responded: "They want us to bargain against ourselves."

Since Wednesday, the union has been preparing itself for a strike. As of Friday at noon, "75 percent of logistical plans had been put together for a potential strike," according to Boardman. The local is planning on finalizing logistics later Friday evening and training their picket line captains and producing more picket signs Saturday.

Although the union has not made a decision whether or not to strike Saturday night, it has been actively preparing. "We'll be filing...ready to go tomorrow evening, if need be," Boardman said.

Should the strike take place it will affect 3,500 workers. The association has taken its own initiative in preparing for a potential strike. Although, management said, "it was too early to tell" if replacements would be needed, Lawson cited the five-star management who would be equipped to handling any adverse situation.

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