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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 29, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 30
Hotel workers shut down two lanes of 5th Avenue
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Hotel workers shut down two lanes of 5th Avenue

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Six hundred hospitality workers and their supporters shut down the northbound lanes of 5th Avenue in front of the Westin Hotel for two hours on July 22.

The Westin is one of seven hotels represented by UNITE HERE Local 8 where union contracts have expired.

The same day, another 150 workers rallied at the SeaTac Doubletree Hotel.

In all, some 1,400 workers will be affected by the new contract negotiations.

Longtime Trans activist Marsha Botzer emceed the Westin rally.

'I've been an activist for a long time,' she said. 'I was a proud union member for 17 years.'

'I've stayed in a lot of hotels,' Botzer added. 'There's always someone to greet us, to take our bags, to bring room service, to clean our rooms. Sheets don't just fall there by themselves.'

In their previous contract battle with the Westin, in 2006 and 2007, UNITE HERE scored a major victory - getting Westin management to agree to the first hotel contract in the U.S. to provide explicit protections for Transgender workers.

Enhanced anti-discrimination protections for LGBT workers are also an issue in this round of negotiations.

Another key issue is job security, especially at hotels that are sold to different owners.

Hilton housekeeper Aracely Cerezo Garcia said in Spanish that her future security is in jeopardy because the hotel's owner plans to sell, without a guarantee that Hilton workers will keep their jobs.

'I have given many years, my body, and my soul to this hotel and now I am here to fight for my job. We are going to fight until we have our jobs, our union, and a fair contract,' a UNITE HERE staffer translated for her.

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

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

'Seattle is a tourism destination, and hotels are recovering from the economic downturn,' said Erik Van Rossum, secretary-treasurer of UNITE HERE Local 8.

'Will they lift up the workers who kept them in business, or will they keep their workers in a permanent recession? Hotel workers are now mobilizing to ensure they get a fair share of the economic recovery.'

Van Rossum also pledged to organize non-union hotels.

'We will not stand by while organizing rights are being attacked in Wisconsin and elsewhere,' he said. 'By organizing non-union hotels, we will bring hospitality workers back into the middle class.'

Halfway through their rally, cheering hotel workers were joined by hundreds of AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) members, who were holding their national convention at the hotel.

AFTRA President Roberta Reardon and Executive Director Kim Roberts Hedgpeth spoke to the rally.

'We chose [the Westin] because it's a union hotel,' Hedgpeth told the crowd. 'I'm here to make sure it stays a union hotel!'

Washington State Labor Council President Jeff Johnson, King County Council member Larry Gossett, and Seattle City Council member Nick Licata also spoke. City Council member Tom Rasmussen was present to show his support for hospitality workers.

At the conclusion of the rally, workers circled the hotel, chanting, 'We'll be back! We'll be back!'

The Westin Hotel and its parent, the Starwood Corporation, were invited to comment for this article, but they did not return SGN's calls by press time.

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