In the first major hotel sector negotiations to take place in the US since September 11, an agreement was reached on a CBA covering 3,000 unionised workers at 9 major hotels in Boston on December 1. The agreement pre-empted strike action which the union members had endorsed in a ballot two weeks earlier.
When it started renegotiating the city-wide collective agreement scheduled to expire on November 30, HERE Local 26 found itself faced with the standard complaint of employers – and particularly those in the tourism sector since September 11 – that they aren’t making any money. What the employers were conveniently ignoring, however, was that they had been making unprecedented amounts of money in the previous five years. For HERE, it was high time that the workers benefit from those profits made possible through their own hard work.
More importantly, HERE saw these negotiations as standard-setting for the sector, as employers seek to play up the short-term consequences of the events of September 11. The tourism industry world-wide has been dealt a major blow and workers are experiencing the brunt of it, with lay-offs in the hundreds of thousands. But through consensus-building over mutual concerns within the framework of healthy industrial relations, hotel operators and workers alike can weather this difficult period and ensure the sustainability of the industry once the current crisis is over.
In letters addressed to the managers of major hotels involved in the negotiations, IUF General Secretary Ron Oswald highlighted the commitment and competence of Boston’s hotel workers and the major contribution they’ve made to the success of the industry. In reference to the strike vote, he wrote, “Such action would clearly be painful to all involved but the failure of the industry to recognize the positive result of the past five years and its unwillingness to share fairly those positive results has understandably pushed workers into feeling they have little choice but to exercise their right to take such action.”
The coalition of hotel operators in Boston has now agreed to union demands on wage increases, the funding of health insurance and guaranteed working hours. Furthermore, HERE has secured the right to organise any new hotels developed in the Boston area by the major chains covered by the agreement – a major achievement in North American industrial relations. These include the Sheraton (Starwood), Ritz-Carlton (Marriott) and Hilton chains.
Commenting on the broader effects of the agreement, HERE President John Wilhelm noted that enormous attention had been paid to these negotiations. “All of our leaders were intensely interested in whether Local 26 would have to take a bad contract. And it didn’t.” The hotel operators had their own good reasons to be pleased: “[The agreement] gives us the opportunity to rebuild our hotels and our business”, a lawyer for the operators enthused. “This has given our employees a boost in the arm and let them know what we think of them.”