Checkout time - Page 2

Rolling strikes are fresh tactic in the labor struggle against hotel chains

Francis clear.

"They're afraid it's going to turn into 2004," Casey said of hotel owners, referring to a two-week stalemate in 2004 in which hotels reacted to the strike by locking out employees of several hotels and bringing in workers from other locations in an attempt to break the strike. But Casey said new times call for new tactics.

"If we did it the same way each time, [management] would be ready for us," Casey said. "We have to keep them on their toes" while staying visible and building incremental support for strikes. "If the strikes last long enough, a boycott could build that would be truly widespread. But let's hope the hotels come to their senses before then."

The picket lines were festive and noisy, with union members banging drums and shouting catchy call-and-response slogans into no fewer than six bullhorns.

"What time is it?" the bullhorns blared. "It's checkout time!" the picket line called back. Valets and bellhops at the Grand Hyatt, most wearing foam earplugs and sunglasses, winced as one man beat a large, ornate kettle drum less than five feet from the lobby entrance.

"This is designed to be measured and escautf8g," Casey said of the single-hotel strike approach. Though the two strikes have ended, Casey said boycotts remain in place for both the Grand Hyatt and the Palace Hotel, whose lavish centennial gala last weekend was marred by an additional Local 2 protest outside.

Hotel representatives have been taciturn about the dispute and its impact, issuing short, carefully-worded responses expressing disappointment at Local 2's actions, and offering sheepish apologies to surprised guests. No hotel representatives were available to speak on record as of press time

Elena Duran, a server at the Palace Hotel, said behind-the-scenes operations have been thrown into disarray by the strikes. "Yesterday there was a fire in the kitchen," Duran said during the Palace strike, "because the new workers don't know what they're doing."

Any hotel labor dispute invariably invites comparisons with the 2004 strike. In that conflict, Mayor Gavin Newsom personally intervened, shaking hands with striking workers and declaring that San Francisco would not do business across picket lines. The mayor's office did not respond to queries about the latest dispute. Local 2 press coordinator Riddhi Mehta said Casey and other union members, as well as their counterparts from the hotels, met with Newsom Nov. 10 for "informational purposes."

City Attorney Dennis Herrera, a likely mayoral candidate, stopped by the picket lines at the Grand Hyatt to offer words of support, telling the cheering strikers: "We are a world-class city. It's not about the Golden Gate Bridge. It's not about the views. It's not about the cable cars. It's about the work that you do every day."

While Local 2 organizers would welcome Newsom's renewed support, they aren't holding their breath. Rumors that Newsom had cut short his vacation to help defuse the situation were greeted with cautious optimism by negotiating team members.

Myers said the hotels were essentially attempting to externalize their employee's health care costs, which would impose a burden on the city budget. Because of San Francisco's universal health care program, Myers said, "If hotel workers can't pay their co-pay, that cost will go to the city. That is abundantly clear to the mayor."