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posted Friday, July 8, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 27
LGBT protections an issue in negotiations at Westin Hotel
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LGBT protections an issue in negotiations at Westin Hotel

Workers picket in show of strength by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Chanting 'Union power!' and 'Corporate greed has got to go!' more than 100 workers from Seattle-area hotels gathered in front of the Westin hotel on July 7 to call for livable wages, job security, and respect on the job.

This summer, contracts covering more than 1,400 hotel and restaurant workers represented by UNITE HERE Local 8 expire and will need to be renegotiated.

The Westin Hotel was previously the scene of one of Local 8's biggest contract victories.

In their last contract negotiation with Westin management in 2006 and 2007, UNITE HERE secured the first hotel contract in the country to explicitly protect Transgender workers from discrimination in the workplace.

Enhanced anti-discrimination protections are also at issue in this round of contract negotiations, union organizers said.

Characterizing negotiations as 'painfully tedious and unnecessarily slow,' Local 8 principal officer Erik Van Rossum said Westin management was refusing to accept anti-discrimination language proposed by the union.

'[Management] has tried to tie up every economic and non-economic issue with the union withdrawing the LGBT protections,' Van Rossum said. 'We completely rejected that!'

Hotel operators are developing a coordinated strategy to deal with this year's contract negotiations, union organizers said.

'The hotel owners are talking amongst themselves like never before,' UNITE HERE Regional Director Rick Sawyer said.

UNITE HERE's Hotel Workers Rising campaign aims to bring hospitality workers, usually among the lowest-paid workers in the country, into the middle class by raising wages, reducing work loads, and enhancing safety and other protections in the workplace.

According to the union, hotels continued to remain profitable during the recession through a combination of layoffs, decreased work schedules, and increased workloads for staff.

While this strategy benefitted the employers, the union said, it further burdened an already over-burdened low-wage workforce.

According to the hospitality industry's own projections, hotels will be returning to record profit levels by 2012.

'Hotel workers can sometimes seem invisible,' Van Rossum said. 'They create luxury in Seattle's hotels by cleaning the rooms, washing the dishes, and cooking the food, among other thankless jobs. But now they are standing up with one voice to demand respect and fairness.'

Seattle employers that currently have UNITE HERE contracts include the Westin, Edgewater, Seattle Hilton, Washington Athletic Club, Space Needle, SeaTac Hilton, and the DoubleTree.

The Westin is operated by the New York-based Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc. Both the Westin and Starwood were invited to comment for this article, but no response was forthcoming by press time.

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