UNITE HERE Local 8 has reached tentative agreement with the Portland Hilton Hotel and Executive Tower on a new three-year contract covering about 265 workers. The contract raises wages $1.55 an hour and maintains health benefits and pension contributions at current levels. If ratified as expected, housekeepers will get an immediate 50-cent pay increase retroactive to Aug. 1, 2014, and another 25 cents every six months, reaching $15.20 an hour by the contract’s July 31, 2017 expiration. Wages for line cooks and hosts are somewhat higher, and dishwashers and banquet bartenders slightly lower. Bell staff and banquet servers get minimum wage plus tips, but have full union benefits and protections.
Other contract highlights:
- Housekeeper workload will have stricter limits: They can still be responsible for cleaning up to 15 rooms per eight-hour shift, but no more than 13 can be check-outs.
- Workers will continue to pay $40 a month for full-family health insurance. The insurance is provided by a union-affiliated health trust, and benefit levels are equivalent to the platinum-level plans under Obamacare.
- The company will continue making pension contributions of 74 cents per hour, plus a surcharge to make up for pension trust investment losses. The new contract converts the surcharge to a pension contribution increase once the plan is rehabilitated.
- Workers will continue one to four weeks paid vacation per year, depending on longevity, and they now reach four weeks after 18 years, not 20 as before.
Management also dropped a proposal that it have the right to schedule workers for short shifts; under the contract, shifts have to be eight hours.
Bargaining had been under way since mid-October, but the two sides reached agreement Feb. 10 — two days before a planned rally and picket outside the hotel. Local 8 secretary-treasurer Eric Van Rossum led bargaining for the union side, but Graham said every bargaining session was observed by 60 to 80 workers, including the entire housekeeping department, which would come in on breaks to watch bargaining.
One item still unaddressed is occupational safety for housekeepers, an industry-wide problem. Hotel mattresses are much heavier than home mattresses, and hotels don’t use fitted sheets, so housekeepers must lift each corner twice to change sheets. That results in injury rates twice that of construction workers, says Local 8 internal organizer Jennifer Graham.
“They all take so much Advil,” Graham said. “They live in pain, and it’s a repetitive motion injury, so it’s very difficult to prove.”
Still, UNITE HERE has made a lot of progress raising wage rates in recent years.
“These are mostly immigrant women, and they may have done hard backbreaking work for 20 years, but they have a pension and can put their children in college and buy a home.”
The union is recommending ratification of the new agreement, at a meeting to be scheduled in mid-March.
One group of Portland Hilton workers is still non-union: front office workers. Graham said Local 8 has been pushing the hotel owner for a year and a half to agree to a card check neutrality agreement, to no avail so far. The Portland hotel is managed by the Hilton corporation, but owned by Walton Street Capital LLC.
The Portland Hilton is the largest of four union hotels in the Portland area, and has the highest wages. Next are the Paramount and Benson hotels, where contracts expire this December, and the Vancouver Washington Hilton, which settled a contract last June.