By Mike Andrew
In a major victory for Seattle hotel workers, the Seattle Hilton has settled all its outstanding disputes its employees. The hotel had been under boycott since October 2011.
The RC Hedreen Company, which owns the Seattle Hilton and several other properties, put the hotel up for sale in September last year, and it is expected to be sold by September this year.
UNITE HERE Local 8, the union which represents some 100 Hilton workers, demanded that the Hedreen Company sign on to what is called a “successorship agreement,” guaranteeing that hotel workers would keep their jobs, benefits, and union representation when the property is sold.
According to the union, Hedreen has now agreed to make retention of the current workers and continued application of their collective bargaining agreement a condition of any sale.
The terms of the agreement also include wage increases, affordable health insurance premiums, and safer workloads for housekeepers, the union said in a statement on July 10.
“Richard Hedreen showed again his longstanding leadership in our community, doing the right thing for workers and for Seattle,” said UNITE HERE Local 8 principal officer Erik Van Rossum. “The agreement protects the livelihoods of a hundred Seattle area families, and that will have a positive effect throughout the region.”
According to UNITE HERE, a typical full-time worker at the Seattle Hilton makes about $30,000 annually with full family medical coverage, among other benefits.
In contrast, the median wage for a non-union Seattle hotel worker is only $23,000 a year, barely above the federal poverty level, and often without affordable health insurance.
“My wife and I depend on our medical insurance for our lives. If we didn’t have my job, we’d have nothing,” Hilton bellman Chuck Cruise said in a statement released by the union.
Cruise added that he dreaded the prospect of looking for a new job if the Hilton was sold.
“I know I wouldn’t find a job quickly in this economy,” he said. “especially one that would pay a living wage and cover my family’s medical bills.”
According to a report by Puget Sound SAGE, Our Pain, Their Gain: The Hidden Costs of Profitability in Seattle Hotels, the hotel industry is already rebounding from the effects of the economic crisis, seeing a 10% increase in net profits between 2009 and 2010.
In that same period, hotel CEOs saw an average salary increase of 41.2 million, while hotel workers lost ground because of benefits cuts, outsourcing, and increased work loads. That is why union representation – and protecting existing labor agreements in the event a property is sold – is so important.
Union members said that community support was a crucial factor in securing the new contract from the Hedreen Company.
“This is a great victory for the Seattle community,” UNITE HERE organizer Jasmine Marwaha said in an email to supporters. “Our workers truly represent Seattle, from all walks of life and all corners of the globe, and each of you stepped up to support them in their struggle.
“Many of you were in pickets with us under harsh conditions, and many of you told the Hilton you would not patronize a boycotted hotel. Others offered to rearrange huge marches to pass by the Hilton. A couple of you got arrested to take a stand for job security! It ALL had an impact.
“We could not have done this without you.”