Housing Complex

Hotel Workers Bring the Noise

At 7:00 a.m. this morning, members of the UNITE-HERE union started picketing outside the Marriott Wardman hotel in Woodley Park while they negotiate a new contract—and organizers say they won't go away until it's signed, or until they go to another one of the seven hotels that's negotiating with them. (Okay, they'll stop at night).

This is how the hotel industry works in D.C.: The Hotel Association of Washington has 95 members. Twenty one of those are unionized under the same collective bargaining agreement—actually pretty good penetration for a private-sector union in D.C.—and generally speaking, wages for different categories of workers are standardized. Their last contract was signed in 2007, and expired in September 2010. They've been trying to negotiate a new one since, demanding better health coverage, a fully funded pension plan, and wage increases (the last one was in March 2010; UNITE-HERE declined to disclose the contract's current wage rates).

Although UNITE-HERE's Local 25 operates in 24 hotels, about half of its 5,000 members work in the seven hotels that are taking an active role in negotiations—the rest have agreed to abide by the outcome, and so won't be targeted. Two others are negotiating separately, and one is in Virginia.

Local 25 has conveniently listed the places you can check into without being bothered. The key to UNITE-HERE's success is that even though some tourist family from New Jersey might not care about labor rights, quite a few big associations, conventions, and other bulk renters of hotel rooms typically act in solidarity, which can really cut into a hotel's business (that's ultimately what brought Jamestown to its knees after weeks of din outside the Madison Hotel).

Hotel Association officials weren't immediately available to comment.

UPDATE, 9:00 p.m. – Hotel Association of Washington D.C. president Solomon Keene says that Local 25 rejected their most recent offer, which he calls "the longest and most generous in the history of our negotiations with Local 25." The proposed contract would have raised wages on average by about 25 percent over a five-year term and included a $700 signing bonus for all members upon ratification. UNITE-HERE wanted a six-year contract, Keene says, but the hotels were reluctant to lock in healthcare benefits beyond 2017 because of the increasing unpredictability of how costs could change.

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