Hyatt signs rare “labor peace” agreement in anticipation of subsidy

UNITE HERE, the union that represents hotel workers, has reached a landmark neutrality agreement with Hyatt Hotels and Resorts that could make it easier for workers to unionize at a planned convention center headquarters hotel.

Mortenson Development Inc. is asking the Portland Development Commission, Portland City Council and the Metro regional government for a package of public incentives for a privately-built privately-operated hotel operation, which could consist of one or two hotels totaling 600 rooms. Once built, the facility would be purchased and operated by Hyatt. But public officials made it known that they would not approve the incentives without a “labor peace” agreement in place.

That made the difference in getting the agreement from Hyatt, says UNITE HERE Local 8 organizer Shellea Allen, despite the fact that Hyatt is still the target of a global boycott by UNITE HERE that has the endorsement of the  AFL-CIO. UNITE HERE says it’s boycotting Hyatt for underpaying and mistreating its housekeepers, giving them too-heavy workloads and in some cases contracting out their work to temps earning minimum wage. A Chicago Hyatt even turned heat lamps on workers who were picketing during a heat wave.

But under the labor peace agreement, Hyatt would show a friendlier face. UNITE HERE organizers could meet with workers at the hotel, and hold meetings there; managers would attend and make it clear that the company has no objection to workers exercising their right to unionize. Workers would be free to join a labor organization of their choosing, and could do so through a “card check” process or through a government-administered election. If workers choose to unionize, and didn’t reach agreement with management within six months over the terms of a first union contract, the contract proposals could be submitted to binding arbitration, under the labor peace agreement.

The agreement does not apply to Hyatt Place at Portland Airport Cascade Station, which is currently nonunion.

The proposed hotel would be located in the Oregon Convention Center urban renewal area, which makes it eligible for help from the Portland Development Commission (PDC). PDC is looking at contributing about $4.1 million to the project. The proposal is expected to go before the PDC, Portland City Council, and Metro. Metro Council will consider public subsidies at a Dec. 4 work session, and is scheduled to vote on it Dec. 13.

“If Hyatt’s going to come here, these have to be good jobs,” said Allen, the UNITE HERE organizer. “All jobs should be living wage jobs, but when public funds are going into it, these HAVE to be good jobs.”

If the $200 million project gets approval and is built, it would likely become the fourth unionized hotel in Portland, joining the Hilton, Benson and Paramount. If the workers choose to join UNITE HERE, they would become members of Local 8, headquartered in Seattle. Portland-based Local 9 was merged into Local 8 in August.

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