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Saturday, Sep 23, 2023

Despite Improved Climate, Talks Dampen Hotel Business

The hotel industry may be having its best year since before 2001’s terrorist attacks, but many Los Angeles hotels, like the Sheraton Universal, are still unable to attract as many guests as they would like. The Sheraton, along with five other hotels, has been locked in negotiations with unionized employees for the last year, and they’ve suffered several setbacks in their attempts to hammer out an agreement. The council of hotels negotiating with the Unite Here union dwindled from seven hotels to six last month when the Hyatt Regency was renamed the Sheraton Los Angeles after being sold. The hotel promptly signed an agreement with the union. The Millennium Biltmore is also on the market, and may also sign its own agreement with the union in the event that it’s sold. Unite Here Local 11 is also unlikely to accept the latest offer from the hotel council, although council spokesman Fred Muir said the two parties had planned to sit down for another negotiation session last Friday. The deal would give employees a 20 percent raise over four years and offer signing bonuses of up to $1,000 for hotel employees. Union officials, however, say it’s unlikely that they’ll approve any contract that expires after 2006, when contracts in other major markets begin to expire. The union is hoping to have greater bargaining power by combining groups across the country at the bargaining table. While negotiations drag on, hotels have lost millions in business. “The union boycott has been in effect since last year, and it has cost us some business. I don’t know how much, it’s hard to put a number on it,” said Fred Muir, spokesman for the Los Angeles Hotel Employer’s Council. “Usually when they do change their plans, they go to a non-union hotel, which is the terrible irony.” Muir said that if the hotels were only counting cancellations brought on by the negotiations, he’d probably be able to quote more specific figures. Hotels cannot, however, determine how many customers are simply avoiding doing business with Los Angeles’ hotel council members. Sheraton Universal officials referred all inquiries about business at their hotel to Muir. Missed business David Koff, spokesman for Unite Here, said the union has done its own research to determine the economic impact the negotiations are having on hotel business. According to the union research, the Sheraton Universal has missed out on between $250,000 and $350,000 in business since negotiations began. The union has estimated that other hotels like the Wilshire Grand have done much worse, losing between $1 and $2 million. “On the basis of a fairly intensive survey of clients at the various hotels who have either moved business or did not book business when they ordinarily would have done so, repeat customers and so on, we’ve estimated that the overall cost to the employers’ council hotels in the boycott is in the range of $10, $12 or $13 million,” said Koff. For now, Muir said, the most of the remaining hotels in the council are unwilling to sign a contract with employees that would expire in 2006. Most of the hotels maintain that “a long-term contract is in their best interests,” said Muir. “I don’t know what’s going to be possible, we’ve now been negotiating for 15 months.” Koff said that the union, on the other hand, has been encouraged by internal wavering throughout the hotel council. John Stoddard, general manager of the Wilshire Grand recently sent a letter to the other council members asking them to sign a contract that expires in 2006, following about half a dozen other hotels that have done so since negotiations began, arguing that the hotel council had little to lose at this point in the negotiations. “The dynamic, the overall picture, has changed quite dramatically, it’s changed on the employer side. The workers remain committed to a contract that not only protects health benefits and wages but will enable them to have the same voice in the same time as their co-workers in the chains in other cities,” Koff said. “The idea has really taken hold in the aftermath of the grocery workers’ strikes that global corporations can withstand fairly major economic impacts in one or two markets. Workers have really seized on this, that if they’re working for a global corporation, they’ve got to be united.” Koff said that union officials have not seriously considered what will happen if the remaining hotel council members do not agree to the union’s demands, but it is still pleased with its progress and at this point is relatively certain that its members would wait to join co-workers across the country in larger negotiations. “We are encouraged by the number of hotels that have found it fiscally prudent and wise from an overall business perspective to settle with the union and get back to what they do best, and that’s to make the most money while consistently providing the best service to their clients,” he said.

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