Union activity is heating up in Boston, where the local chapter of the hotel employees union, UNITE HERE, has voted to authorize a strike, if necessary, and workers have picketed in the streets.

Unite Here Local 26 voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike in mid-March, following months of unsuccessful negotiations with Boston hoteliers. Hotel worker contracts at 19 Boston hotels expired on November 30, 2006 (except for one, the Westin Copley Place, Boston, where the contract expired March 31, 2007). The union is negotiating with four Starwood properties: Sheraton Boston Hotel; The Westin Boston Waterfront; Boston Park Plaza Hotel and Towers; and The Westin Copley Place, Boston. The other 15 hotels have signed “me too” agreements, meaning they will agree to the terms negotiated by Starwood.

By voting to authorize a strike, it doesn’t mean that a strike is imminent, explains Antony Dugdale, Unite Here spokesman. It means that the union has the approval of its members to strike if terms aren’t met.

In late March, about 1,000 workers picketed in front of the Sheraton Boston. More picketing, demonstrations, and leafleting is expected in the coming weeks, says Dugdale. The primary issues, from the union side, are wages, health benefits, and hiring practices, explains Dugdale. No negotiations have taken place for about a month. “We’re extremely concerned that there’s been no progress at the negotiating table,” he says.

In other Boston labor news, about two dozen members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 103 were picketing in front of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center last week during NEMICE (the New England Meetings Industry Conference and Exposition). The union is protesting what it calls a “violation of community standards for wages and benefits” at the BCEC, says Mike Monahan, business manager at IBEW Local 103 in Dorchester, Mass. NEMICE attendees and exhibitors were sent an e-mail blast last week from the union informing them of the dispute and the fact that there will be more picketing at the center until it is resolved. Massachusetts Convention Center Authority officials could not be reached for comment by press time.