Union contracts expired at 62 hotels in San Francisco on August 14, at 37 hotels in Chicago on August 31 at midnight, and are scheduled for renewal at a number of Los Angeles hotels in November. When contracts expired in 2004 in San Francisco, hotel employers and union employees were locked in a two-year stalemate that included a two-week worker strike. The contracts were eventually settled in 2006 when hoteliers signed a five-year deal, retroactive to 2004, with Unite Here Local 2, San Francisco, the union that represents hotel workers.

In Chicago, a press conference was scheduled to be held on Tuesday, September 1, to discuss the state of citywide hotel negotiations. “We are far from reaching a settlement with the companies,” says Annemarie Strassel, spokeswoman for Unite Here Local 1 in Chicago.

In San Francisco, 9,000 hotel workers at 32 full-service hotels and 30 limited-service properties are working without a new contract. Negotiations are under way with many of the big chains, including Starwood, Hilton, and Hyatt, but are in the early stages, says Ian Lewis, research director, Unite Here Local 2. It's too early to predict whether there will be any strikes, lockouts, or other worker actions at any of these properties, he adds, but the union encourages planners to include force majeure language in their contracts.

The big issues for the union are healthcare benefits and workload. “Like hotel workers nationwide, Local 2 members have witnessed dramatic staffing reductions over the past year, resulting in increased workloads for those who remain working,” states Lewis. The union does not want to see work standards rolled back because of the recession, he says.

In separate actions, worker demonstrations have occurred at the Hyatt Fisherman’s Wharf and Le Meridien, where workers are looking into unionizing, Lewis adds.

In Chicago and Los Angeles, three-year contracts signed in 2006 are up for renewal. In Chicago, contracts at 37 hotels were set to expire on August 31, affecting 7,500 hotel workers. Talks between Unite Here Local 1 and hoteliers have just begun, says Strassel.

In Los Angeles, contracts expire for about 25 hotels and 8,000 workers on November 30, says Tom Walsh, president, Unite Here Local 11. Talks have not yet begun for those hotels. However, negotiations are under way with the Bel Air Hotel, which is closing for a two-year renovation. The union wants to make sure that current employees get their jobs back when the hotel reopens since management has indicated that it will hire new, nonunion employees at that time, explains Walsh.

The last two rounds of negotiations for Local 11 have been rocky. In 2006, the union signed a three-year deal after several months of stalemate. In 2004, negotiations dragged on for more than a year and ended after workers went on a two-day strike. This time around, maintaining health benefits and wages are the main issues, says Walsh.