SF, East Bay chapters of Unite Here union vote to merge

Anand Singh, president of the Unite Here Local 2 union, is preparing for a fight this summer. Contracts will expire for thousands of its members working in hotels across San Francisco and the negotiation of a new labor agreement is expected to be contentious.

It’s a key reason why on Wednesday night members of his union and Oakland’s Unite Here Local 2850 unit voted to merge their organizations, a show of solidarity they hope will strengthen their power. negotiation on both sides of the bay.

“With this merger, we emerge from the pandemic as a bigger and stronger renewed union, ready to meet these challenges head on,” Singh said.

The boards of each unit had already approved the move in a vote, but it needed to pass a member vote to become official.

The final tally among current Local 2 members was 84.2% voting ‘yes’ to 15.8% voting ‘no’, with two-thirds to pass, according to the union.

Of current members of Local 2850, which represents workers in East Bay and North Bay, 99% voted ‘yes’ and 1% voted ‘no’, with a simple majority needed for the measure to pass .

Union officials said the ability to negotiate as a larger unit, especially with large hotel chains, would give them more leverage to get their members back to work after pandemic layoffs and control their workload once they are back to work.

Visitors to the Bay Area “will get a better quality of service from a worker who does one job than a worker who does three,” said Yulisa Elenes, the former president of the East Bay local. who is now Vice President of East Bay and North Bay in the merged union, speaking ahead of the vote.

Prior to the merger, San Francisco’s Unite Here chapter, which also includes San Mateo County, represented about 13,000 service workers in the city, of which about 9,000 worked in city hotels. Unite Here’s East Bay members number around 2,500, according to the union.

Of those hospitality workers in San Francisco, about half were called back to work after furloughs and layoffs during the pandemic, with 55% of members in East Bay and North Bay being called back, the union said.

As hotel occupancy rates have increased in recent months and conventions return to San Francisco, the city’s major hotel chains say they are bringing staff back as needed.

San Francisco’s hotel occupancy rate hovered around 50% early last month, below the 2019 average of 80%, according to city data. That hit 76% at some point last month when events like the Game Developers Conference and the NCAA Basketball Tournament were in town.

In the United States, hotels have lost an estimated $108 billion in business travel revenue over the past two years, according to the American Hotel and Lodging Association.

The union says its members who are being recalled are struggling with the work of several people to cut costs and increase profits.

“They don’t call you, or you come to work and work like a horse,” said Bill Fung, who worked at the Hilton Union Square in San Francisco for 27 years and is a Local 2 board member. , which will house members of Unit 2850.

Fung said his old job in housekeeping supplies was added to another employee’s workload and he was given new duties of shampooing carpets in rooms and hallways.

Hilton CEO Christopher Nassetta told investors on a call last year that the company was looking to create higher margins through “labour efficiency,” particularly in housekeeping and catering services.

Union members and leaders said the merger increases both parties’ bargaining power to push back on these changes, not least because if workers at a hotel chain go on strike during negotiations, it’s easier to coordinate those across the bay doing the same.

“It makes no sense to negotiate with the Marriott Company, which is the largest hotel chain in the world, with separate bargaining tables in San Francisco and Oakland,” said Singh, who will remain president of the merged locals.

Singh and Elenes said the merger idea had been mooted over the past few years due to the close cooperation of the two locals, including the 2018 Marriott strike in San Francisco and elsewhere in the Bay Area during of the last round of contract negotiations.

Singh acknowledged that since tourism is one of the region’s lifeblood, an uphill battle this year would not be good for workers, businesses or the city and its ability to attract visitors.

“We’re not looking for that,” he said. “The question is will the industry also see the point in avoiding a real fight or will its greed cloud its judgement?”

Unions and their locals can be notoriously territorial, but Elenes said she isn’t worried about her members’ interests being subsumed by the larger group.

“I don’t think that will be a problem,” she said. “I think it’s going to be able to broaden their voice.”

In addition to hotel workers, Elenes membership in East Bay and North Bay includes stadium and airport workers whose contracts are set to expire throughout the summer. She said she expects key issues in the negotiations to include wage increases to stay ahead of inflation and maintaining health care benefits for workers, many of whom lost those benefits when ‘they weren’t called back to work.

Angie Nandin is one of those members who hasn’t been called back to her job as beautician at Berkeley’s Claremont Club and Spa since she was made redundant in early 2020, after working there for 18 years.

Nandin said the spa is still only open three days a week, making it difficult for those who have been called back to get enough hours to qualify for benefits.

“If you only let me work for three days, it’s very difficult to get this health care,” she said.

A former 2850 executive council member who will now join Local 2, Nandin said workers don’t want to go to the extreme of a strike, but will if it means getting the benefits they need to themselves and their families.

“Nobody wants to be outside of a hotel picket,” she said. “They prefer to be indoors to support their families.”

Chase DiFeliciantonio is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @ChaseDiFelice

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