Vancouver Hilton workers join UNITE HERE Local 9

VANCOUVER, Wash. — The Hilton Vancouver Washington is now the fourth union hotel in the Portland metro area. Last month, 130 housekeeping, laundry, restaurant, bar and banquet workers became members of the garment and hospitality union UNITE HERE Local 9.

Under a neutrality agreement signed before the hotel and adjacent convention center was built, management agreed to recognize the union once a majority of hotel workers signed union authorization cards, said Jeff Richardson, financial secretary-treasurer of Local 9.

The complex is owned by the City of Vancouver’s Downtown Redevelopment Authority, which signed a 15-year contract with Hilton Hotels Corporation to manage it. The 226-room hotel is located at 301 W. 6th Street, across the street from Esther Short Park in the heart of downtown Vancouver.

Organized labor played a major role in shepherding the $73.1 million deal through bureaucratic red tape at the state, county and city levels. Union members also helped promote a bond levy to voters to fund the project.

But the new facility hasn’t been without controversy. The general contractor for construction was from Texas, and at least a dozen nonunion subcontractors were hired to build it. A large portion of the project was let to a nonunion plumbing company, resulting in picketing by Plumbers and Fitters Local 290 and the Columbia-Pacific Building and Construction Trades Council during construction.

The building trades council called for a three-year boycott of the hotel and conference center when it opened June 15, 2005. Building trades officials said they hope to meet with city officials soon to discuss ways to end the boycott.

UNITE HERE contract bargaining for the Hilton Vancouver staff is expected to begin shortly. Surveys have been sent to workers, who are meeting to establish priorities and select members of the bargaining team. Housekeepers currently earn $8.50 an hour and servers make minimum wage plus tips.

UNITE HERE Local 9 also represents hotel workers at the Hilton, Benson and Paramount in downtown Portland.