Union workers at hotels in San Francisco and Chicago voted in late October to authorize strikes against hotels in those cities, setting the stage for work stoppages should contract negotiations stall.

Strike authorization votes don’t mean that strikes are imminent, but they give the union leaders the authority to strike if they feel it is warranted. In 2004, the last time contracts were up for renewal in San Francisco, there was a two-week strike by Unite Here Local 2, followed by a lockout, before matters were settled.

In San Francisco, 93 percent of Unite Here Local 2 workers voted on October 22 to authorize a strike against 31 hotels. Some 3,000 San Francisco union employees have been working without a contract since contracts expired on August 14. The union has been in talks with the major hotel companies, including Hyatt, Hilton, Starwood, InterContinental, and Fairmont, but so far, various proposals have fallen flat. According to Local 2 officials, increasing workloads and healthcare costs are the major obstacles.

In Chicago, 89 percent of Unite Here Local 1 members voted to authorize a strike at five Starwood properties, including the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers, Westin Michigan Avenue, W Lakeshore, W Chicago-City Center, and Tremont Hotel.

Overall, contracts covering 6,000 workers at 30 Chicago hotels expired on August 31, but strikes have been authorized at only the Starwood properties. Unite Here Local 1 spokeswoman Annemarie Strassel said no other strike authorization votes are scheduled at this time.

Healthcare coverage is the major sticking point: The union wants to maintain benefit levels while Starwood has proposed cuts, according to the union.