Hotel worker union members picketed in front of the Westin St. Francis at 335 Powell St. starting early this morning in an effort to bring attention to the union’s hotel boycott, a spokeswoman for Unite Here Local 2 said.
The union began its boycott of seven hotels, including the Westin St. Francis, the Grand Hyatt, and the Hilton, just before August 2009 when the union began renegotiations for expiring contracts between 61 hotels and 9,000 Local 2 members, union spokeswoman Riddhi Mehta said.
Mehta said that the targeted hotels are asking for workers to shoulder an unfair cut of expected increases in health care coverage over the next three years. “It’s not like wages are going to go up,” she said.
Richard Curiale, an attorney with Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, which owns the Westin St. Francis and two other hotels targeted by the union, said that individual pickets don’t necessarily hurt business, but that the boycotts have.
Curiale said that the hotels he represents aren’t willing to shoulder 100 percent of the burden of increasing health care costs. When asked if the hotels can’t afford it, Curiale responded, “They never said they can’t afford it. The issue is: where does it end?”
Although negotiations are currently at a standstill, Curiale said he expects they’ll continue in late spring or early summer.
Today’s picketing went from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Mehta said, and will do the same Thursday. “Until this settles, we’re definitely going to have a greater and more frequent presence,” said Mehta.
The picket coincides with the 84th annual American Philosophical Association’s Pacific Division conference, which is currently taking place at the St. Francis on Powell Street.
Mehta said that Local 2 asked the Association to move the location of their conference, but they refused.
On their website, the association published a lengthy explanation for their decision to stay at the St. Francis. They said that their policy is to patronize only unionized hotels, and at the time they signed the contract, the Westin St. Francis was on Unite’s “please patronize” list.
In addition, the association says they posted an online survey about whether to change locations that showed the majority of attendees preferred to stay at the St. Francis site.
Although the bulk of the conference is taking place at the St. Francis, about 20 percent of attendees agreed to meet at an off-site location on the University of San Francisco campus in solidarity with the union’s boycott, said Gerard Kuperus, a philosophy professor at the University of San Francisco who helped organize the sessions held at the off-site location.
“We want to support people who are not being compensated well for the work they are doing,” said Kuperus, who added that his whole department is supporting the union by meeting at the off-site location.
Kuperus said that there is no ill will among members of the association over the issue, and that the association supported the alternative location for the conference. He also said that the same conflict occurred about five years ago.
Joseph Levine, a philosophy professor at the University of Massachusetts who decided to attend the off-site conference said he thinks the Association made the wrong decision to continue holding the conference at the St. Francis. “I myself am disappointed in my fellow philosophers who decided not to honor the boycott,” he said.