High-stakes negotiations between Los Angeles-area hotels and the hotel workers union have broken down, as national chains like Hyatt and Sheraton resist the union's novel plan to line up contract expiration dates across the country, opening the door to a national strike.
Union leaders, who want contracts in 10 major cities to expire in 2006, say that kind of clout — and the threat of a potentially disruptive nationwide walkout in two years — would allow them to substantially drive up wages and benefits for housekeepers, bellboys and banquet servers.
. . . New York, Boston and Chicago are already in line. Los Angeles would be the fourth city with a 2006 contract expiration. And in the next three months, contracts in San Francisco and Washington will be open for negotiations.
The national strategy was mapped out by John Wilhelm, president of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union, or HERE, and one of five union presidents pushing for fundamental changes in the labor movement. The group advocates a national approach to negotiations.
Currently, each union local makes deals separately with hotels in its area, an approach that Wilhelm said no longer made sense after waves of consolidation in the industry.
The hotel council contract covers nine major hotels. An additional eight hotels are covered under separate contracts that are likely to follow the council's agreement closely.
Together, the 17 union hotels include some of the area's most prestigious, including the Hyatt Regency, Millennium Biltmore and Westin Bonaventure in downtown Los Angeles, the Westin Century Plaza and the Sheraton Universal. They employ about 4,000 union housekeepers, bellhops, banquet servers and others.
The Los Angeles contract expired June 1 after several months of extensions. Without a contract, the union could strike or the hotels could lock out union workers. Neither side has ruled out those possibilities, but no plans appear to be imminent.
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