Monday, February 13, 2006

Hotel Workers Get Ready To Rumble

This could be an exciting -- and hopefully educational year -- for travellers throughout North America.

UNITE-HERE, the labor union representing hotel, hospitality, laundry and textile workers is launching a massive nation-wide campaign to organize half a million hotel workers across the country. Major issues in the campaign include low wages and hazardous working conditions.

According to the Hotel Workers Rising webpage:
In recent decades, the hotel industry has witnessed the rapid consolidation and expansion of international hotel corporations. The hotel industry used to be dominated by local players and local markets. But today the industry is dominated by multimillion dollar national and international corporations. Hotel companies such as Starwood, Hilton and Marriott are present in most major cities, and employ thousands of workers.

These workers—largely minority and immigrant women—work hard to create a welcoming home away from home for business travelers and tourists. But many are suffering serious physical injuries from the workloads imposed on them by large multi-national companies like Starwood and Hilton. Severe understaffing coupled with an increase in room amenities like heavier mattresses and linens are hurting these workers.
Actor Danny Glover and former Senator and Vice Presidential candidate John Edwards are joining hotel workers for a four-city publicity tour starting Wednesday in San Francisco, and then moving on to Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston.

As an article in Business Week points out
The hotel campaign marks the first major push by Change to Win, the new labor federation that broke away from the AFL-CIO last summer. The 5.4 million-member group, which includes the Teamsters as well as UNITE HERE, wants to stanch labor's decline by mounting national recruiting drives involving entire industries. "We're challenging our industry to make service jobs middle class," says John W. Wilhelm, president of UNITE HERE's hospitality division, which represents 90,000 of the 500,000 employees at full-service U.S. hotels. Nationally, nonunion hotel housekeepers earn an average of $8.67 an hour, vs. $13 for those in the union, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Over the past several years, UNITE HERE has been aligning the expiration dates of its contracts in major cities so they renew this year. As a result it can mount simultaneous strikes in Hilton and Starwood's most lucrative markets, including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Honolulu, and San Francisco.
UNITE-HERE hospitality division President John Wilhelm has made no secret of the possible impact of such a strike:
A nationwide labor dispute involving 60,000 hotel workers in major North American cities could be averted if the hotel industry were to adopt some of the policies major casino companies use, the national union chief for lodging and food service workers said Thursday.

In a conference call sponsored by Wall Street investment house Bear Stearns, UNITE HERE President John Wilhelm told stock analysts and portfolio managers who follow the hotel industry that a nationwide strike by hotel workers could wipe out all the financial gains lodging companies have achieved in the past few years.

Labor contracts at almost 200 hotels in six cities, operated by such national companies as Hilton Hotels Corp., Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Marriott International and Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, will expire this year. Wilhelm said not much has happened yet in the way of negotiations.
Meanwhile, back in the hotel rooms... A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle described the conditions hotel workers labor under:
At the Oakland Marriott, where housekeepers make about $12 an hour, the women -- and housekeepers are almost exclusively women -- must clean 16 rooms per day. For Herrmann, that means changing 26 beds, each of which has five to seven pillows, a duvet and all the accessories.

Each bed takes 14 to 15 minutes to change, she said, leaving just 15 or 16 minutes to vacuum, dust and mop; empty the trash; replace the myriad soaps and lotions; and clean the mirror, tub, sink, toilet, walls and faucets. Plus she has to reload her cart with fresh linens from the laundry room, which requires a time-consuming trip to the hotel basement.

It's all part of a mad dash by hotels to capitalize on travelers' obsessive quest for a luxurious night's sleep. Each is upping the ante with more pillows, bigger mattresses and fluffier accoutrements.

And it's even worse in other parts of the country, where housekeepers -- who average about $8 an hour -- must clean as many as 19 rooms.
So, if you're worried about getting fat when you travel, fear not. You may be able to get plenty of exercise walking the picket line over the next year.