UNITE HERE warns of possible labor disputes at Northwest hotels

UNITE HERE, the union that represents hotel workers, is trying to get the word out about the possibility of labor disputes when contracts expire this summer at Portland and Seattle hotels.

Unions and pro-union groups traditionally support union workers by scheduling meetings and conferences at unionized facilities. But that can get tricky if the workers end up on strike or boycotting their employer, as they have in several recent contract disputes with the Hilton hotel chain.

Karly Edwards, deputy trustee of Portland-based UNITE HERE Local 9, suggests that conference planners negotiate “force majeure” language in contracts with hotels. Depending on how they’re worded, such clauses can prevent organizations from losing deposits or having to pay cancellation fees if they cancel because of a labor dispute. Sample language is available here.

Inmex, a UNITE HERE-supported non-profit that was founded in 2006, can also help. Inmex, which stands for Informed Meetings Exchange, provides a number of resources for meeting planners at www.inmex.org, and helps users select socially-responsible hotels.

Contracts covering about 400 workers expire June 30 and July 31 at the four unionized hotels in the Portland-area: the Benson, Paramount, Hilton Portland & Executive Tower, and Hilton Vancouver, Washington. And contracts covering 1,400 workers at seven Seattle-area hotels and meeting spaces expire at the end of May, June, and July. Those are: The Westin Hotel Seattle, The Edgewater Hotel, Seattle Hilton, Washington Athletic Club, Space Needle Sky City Restaurant, Doubletree Hotel Seattle Airport, and Hilton Seattle Airport and Conference Center.

In October 2010, UNITE HERE struck Hilton hotels in Chicago, Honolulu, and San Francisco before reaching agreements on new contracts.

“It’s important that hotel workers not be locked into recession-era contracts, and locked out of the recovery,” said Eric Van Rossum, secretary-treasurer of Seattle-based UNITE HERE Local 8.

As the recession took hold, hotel workers suffered layoffs, hours cuts, and workload increases, Van Rossum said, but hotel business has bounced back since its 2009 low point and is on track for full recovery in 2012 and 2013.

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