August 24‚ 2006
Copyright © 2006 Marc Norton
Deep in the bowels of the Marriott Hotel, at 7 AM this morning, over two hundred Local 2 hotel workers have gathered, in the first of seven mass meetings scheduled today to give the hotel bosses in San Francisco a message.
We will be going to work soon. But, now, here, early this morning, we are voting to give our union's leadership the authority to call a strike if necessary. If that happens, it will mean long, hard days on the picket lines. But we are used to long, hard days -- cleaning hotel rooms, catering to businessmen and tourists in hotel lobbies, toiling in hotel kitchens and restaurants. Long, hard days are nothing new for us.
First up is Earl Streeter, a bellman at the Fairmont Hotel, and a member of union's negotiating committee. He tells us that the contract fight has been a long, hard struggle. We know this, but we are glad to hear it acknowledged. It started two years ago, when four hotels went out on what was supposed to be a two-week strike, but ended up being a nearly two-month long lockout for over 4,000 workers at 14 hotels. And, for two years now, all of us have been working without a contract.
But, says Earl, we are ready. Whatever it takes. He outlines the issues on the bargaining table: decent wages, comprehensive and affordable health care, liveable pensions, a workload that doesn't destroy our bodies or our minds, job security, the right to organize. These are basic demands, things that the american dream says we all deserve, though few of us really have.
We are a multi-national union, ethnically and racially diverse. There is hardly a white face in the room. There are workers from every corner of the globe, from China, from Mexico and Latin America, from the Philippines. Some are here legally, some are not. Some are descended from slaves.
We are facing off against giant multi-national corporations and conglomerates. The union is bargaining now with the Multi-Employer Group (MEG), a cabal of thirteen of the City's biggest hotels -- including Hilton, Hyatt, Starwood (The Palace, Westin St. Francis), and Intercontinental (Mark Hopkins). The investors who make their money in the hotel business make it off our sweat and strain. They know it, and we know it.
Next up is Mike Casey, long-time President of Local 2. He tells us that the hotel bosses are making record profits. He tells us that we have to stand strong, not just for ourselves, but for hotel workers and our families in the next generation -- just like previous generations of hotel workers fought and struggled and sacrificed so we could enjoy the rights and benefits we have today.
Mike pledges that the leadership will never accept proposals like the MEG's plan for a two-tier health care system -- where new employees pay more to get less. He calls such proposals "inexcusable." Here, Mike is rejecting what many other workers in other unions have been forced to accept in recent years. Local 2, he says, will hold the line.
The current battle with the multi-national hotel companies is not limited to San Francisco. Mike reminds us that on Monday and Tuesday, hotel workers in Chicago voted in overwhelming numbers to authorize a strike in that windy city. On Wednesday, hotel workers in Hawaii and in Monterey, California took strike votes. Hotel workers in Toronto have also authorized a strike. Negotiations continue on hotel contracts in a number of other cities nationwide. It is, Mike says, an "historic week."
Finally, Mike tells us that the union will be negotiating every day next week, and that the leadership will do everything possible to avoid a strike -- if it can be avoided without giving in to the hotel bosses. But, just in case, the union has scheduled a "City-Wide Action."
Date: Next Thursday, August 31.
Time: 4:15 PM.
Place: Local 2 Plaza (Market Street between 3rd and 4th Streets).
The flyer is very simple: "No Justice, No Peace!"
As the corporate media stories have been telling us all week, one year ago, in the summer of 2005, Hurricane Katrina battered the people of New Orleans and the Gulf. Katrina exposed, for all the world to see the poverty, injustice and racism that is so much a part of this country.
Two years ago, in the summer of 2004, the hotel bosses in San Francisco forced thousands of workers out onto the streets, exposing for all the world to see the poverty, injustice and racism that is so much a part of San Francisco, despite what so many of us want to believe about our "progressive" city.
San Francisco, like New Orleans, has suffered tremendous natural disasters. We can survive hurricanes and floods, earthquakes and fires. But the intolerable disasters are the ones that are brought on only by power elites that don't care one bit about the lives of working class people and our families, especially when our faces are black, brown or yellow.
Hotel workers are the heart and soul of organized labor in this city. Try to imagine the San Francisco labor movement without a strong hotel workers union. That would be a Category 4 disaster for the working class of this city, here in this international financial capital and tourist mecca. Yet, the hotel bosses are once again threatening to batter us all out of foul greed and their seemingly-insatiable lust for riches and power...
(The strike vote meetings continue all day. More on the results tomorrow.)