By Alex Emslie
San Francisco Bay Guardian
An ongoing labor conflict between the hospitality workers union Unite-Here Local 2 and the Hyatt Corporation boiled over into the streets yesterday (7/22/10) with a union-organized protest and civil disobedience outside the Grand Hyatt San Francisco hotel. Union leaders see the action as another step in the fight for their members’ workplace rights. Hotel management called the action a staged spectacle and a waste of energy that would be better spent at the bargaining table.
San Francisco hospitality workers have been without a contract for nearly a year as Local 2 and hotel management of several corporations have reached an impasse over securing health care benefits, pension improvement, wage increases, and the right to organize without intimidation from employers. San Francisco Police Department Sgt. Tadao Yamaguchi confirmed that 150 demonstrators were arrested after blocking Stockton Street outside the Grand Hyatt San Francisco hotel. All were cited and released.
“The Hyatt Corporation has repeatedly said they want workers to pay hundreds of dollars per month for family medical,” Local 2 spokeswoman Riddhi Mehta told the Guardian. “Workers have sacrificed wages for decades to keep health care, to the point that their average income is $30,000 to $35,000 per year.”
Hyatt spokesman Peter Hillman told the Guardian that management wants to renegotiate the health care portion of the contract, but that negotiations hadn’t reached the point to make specific demands for worker contributions to the plan.
“They are sitting on top of $35 million that could be used to help address the overall health care plan that hasn’t been addressed in 30 years,” Hillman told us. “If there is finger pointing on profits and all that, I would ask them why they haven’t opened up that?”
Mehta told the Guardian that $35 million is in an health and welfare trust fund specifically for emergencies, like earthquakes or lockouts in which union members aren’t working enough hours to get health benefits. Local 2 President Mike Casey told the Guardian that the union does not control the trust fund. It’s managed by trustees from both employers and the union. “Bringing this up is it’s a delay tactic on their part,” Mehta said.
Casey, who was arrested during the demonstration, said it was a success. “We’re going to win,” he said. “It’s going to take some time. It’s a question of who’s going to last one day longer than the other side.”
“The game Unite Here is playing is to generate more union membership, to some extent at the expense of the current membership,” Hillman said. “These are staged spectacles. The energy would be better spent at the bargaining table and we encourage Local 2 to come back to that.”