Boycott of Baltimore City Center Sheraton Hotel Launched by UNITEHERE

Baltimore City Center Sheraton Hotel workers call for a boycott of their own hotel. Rally and picket line on Thursday, November 15, 2007 at 3:30PM.

Hopkins Plaza, West Baltimore Street between Liberty and Charles behind the Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel
101 W. Fayette Street

In 2005, the Omni Hotel in Baltimore was bought up by Bill Yung the III's expanding Columbia Sussex empire of 67 hotels and 14 casinos. Rebranding it the City Center Sheraton, Yung had the hotel refurbished but there was one detail about the hotel he couldn't change. What Yung did not bargain for and now who he refuses to bargain with are the unionized hotel workers of UNITE HERE Local 7 and the International Union of Operating Engineers(IOUE). When Columbia Sussex bought the hotel, they recognized the union's Collective Bargaining Agreement, but the company has since tried to reject the workers demands. With the company's unwillingness to negotiate with the union and attacks upon working conditions, the workers of Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel have voted for a boycott of their own hotel, beginning on November 15th, 2007.

BOYCOTT CITY CENTER SHERATON HOTEL

by Flint Sparc (Baltimore NEFAC)

In 2005, the Omni Hotel in Baltimore was bought up by Bill Yung the III's expanding Columbia Sussex empire of 67 hotels and 14 casinos. Rebranding it the City Center Sheraton, Yung had the hotel refurbished but there was one detail about the hotel he couldn't change. What Yung did not bargain for and now who he refuses to bargain with are the unionized hotel workers of UNITE HERE Local 7 and the International Union of Operating Engineers(IOUE). When Columbia Sussex bought the hotel, they recognized the union's Collective Bargaining Agreement, but the company has since tried to reject the workers demands.

The union organized with workers at the hotel in the 1970s, and there has been a union contract at the property for over thirty years. Local 7 boasts 200 members at the City Center Sheraton including every hourly worker in hotel (with the exception of the front desk, bellhops and some administrative aides). The union sees the Sheraton as it's beachhead for organizing the entire hotel industry in Baltimore. This is quite significant for the local economy, as hospitality is now the second largest industry in the city. Increased union density in industry often means that the union is able to not only command better wages and benefits for their membership, but also for workers throughout an industry. While workers at the Sheraton still earn more than non-union workers in other local hotels, the wages for hospitality workers in Baltimore are still much lower than cities where UNITE HERE has density like in New York City, Chicago and Las Vegas.

UNITE HERE proposed raises of 50 cents every year for 2006 to 2008; Columbia Sussex refused the offer and instead only paid the workers a raise of 35 cents in April of 2007. Yung also tried to trash the union's health plan and increase the cost to workers to make it unfeasible, but the union was able to fight off that attempt through the National Labor Relations Board suit. Ironically this has forced the company to pay a larger share of the health care costs, while workers continue to pay the same amount. Columbia Sussex's attempts to unilaterally implement changes in conditions have so far earned it complaints and violations from the National Labor Relations Board, which have forced the company to rescind it's changes. In addition, the company has tried to weasel out of making any contribution to employees' pension. In an attempt to discourage the union, Columbia Sussex stopped dues checkoff; but UNITE HERE continues the fight even with no dues coming from their members at the hotel.

Yung has tried to rob the banquet servers of more of their gratuity. The company charges 21% gratuity on every banquet bill, of which the servers only received 75%. In Columbia Sussex's drive to maximize profit, they've tried to reduce the servers' cut to 60%. UNITE HERE has successfully fought at other restaurants to win 100% of gratuity for the workers. This is one of the driving reasons behind the banquet servers supporting a boycott of their own hotel, and thus their potential gratuity. They are willing to make sacrifices in the struggle now, for a larger share of their own tips in the future.

It is not just the wages, it is the working conditions as well. The over 700 rooms at 101 W. Fayette Street are now being cleaned by fewer housekeepers since a round of layoffs. Security personnel have also been laid off, and employee servers have complained increasingly of a lack of hours and bad scheduling. The company is engaging in a deliberate campaign of transitioning permanent employees who expect benefits to contracting temporary workers, on a daily and permanent basis. The company has also sought further changes to scheduling and attacks seniority.

The housekeepers, whose starting pay is $9.50 an hour, have not only had to face a speed up caused by short staffing but also managerial incompetence. One example is that clean linens that were once placed on every one of the hotels twenty seven floors are now only available on every other floor. Even then, it often runs out, which forces the housekeepers to cart down to the basement, and wait for sheets as soon as they come out of the laundry. While Yung saw to the refurbishment of the rooms that increased the weight of the beds housekeeping works with, they have not upgraded the laundry which suffers from aging equipment. A lack of working dryers now has sheets airing out over days at a time. Many of the duvet covers have not been cleaned in some time.

With the company's unwillingness to negotiate with the union and attacks upon working conditions, the workers of Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel have voted for a boycott of their own hotel, beginning on November 15th, 2007. A majority of workers signed boycott support forms, showing their commitment to the struggle. In addition, the boycott has been endorsed by over 30 organizations including the DC and Maryland State AFL-CIO, the Baltimore Council of the AFL-CIO, the Baltimore NAACP, the Baltimore AARP, Black Pride, Progressive Maryland, Casa de Maryland, the Baltimore Building and Construction Trades Council, National Black Justice Coalition, and Equality Maryland. The union strategy is to pressure large clients of the hotel to take their business elsewhere to bring the company back to the negotiating table with the union. The boycott is being launched with a major demonstration and picket line outside the hotel on November 15th at 3:30 PM.

UNITE HERE sees the struggle in Baltimore as part of a much larger campaign throughout the hospitality industry. With revenues that exceed $1 billion, Columbia Sussex is one of the largest private hotel companies in the world providing more than 27,000 rooms throughout the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean operating under such brands as Marriott, Hilton, Westin, Sheraton, Renaissance and Doubletree. While the company largely refuses to cooperate with unions, through it's rapid acquisitions it now has three hotels with UNITE HERE contracts, and the Baltimore contract is the first to expire. The company bought the Tropicana Resorts and Casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City last year, and contract negotiations are underway with UNITE HERE affiliate Culinary Workers Local 226 and Local 54. So far, Columbia Sussex has made a similar unacceptable "offer" the Las Vegas Tropicana workers to no longer fund the union health, welfare and pension funds. Likewise the Tropicana workers in Atlantic City have also issued a report of sub-standard conditions. Yung has claimed that he will never sign a contract in Las Vegas. Greed is Yung's motivation, he has claimed that if other hotels can have a 25% profit, he'll squeeze 35%; to do that he has to squeeze the workers and break their union.

The Baltimore workers of Local 7 are the tip of the spear not just for UNITE HERE's campaigns at Columbia Sussex but all Baltimore workers, and they need our support. Boycott City Center Sheraton Hotel!

Article from the forthcoming first edition of "The Insubordinate", a Baltimore-DC newspaper produced by the the Dancing Cat Anarchist Collective (NEFAC)