Thursday, April 29, 2010

Anchorage Sheraton Hotel Launches Public Relations Counteroffensive Against Striking Local 878 UNITE HERE Hospitality Workers

In their April 29th edition, the Anchorage Press discloses that the Anchorage Sheraton Hotel has launched a public relations counteroffensive against Local 878 of UNITE HERE, the hospitality workers’ union representing workers at the hotel. Local 878 has been engaged in industrial action against the hotel. The Sheraton has begun publicizing their cause on the following blog:

In this post, Sheraton lays out their case in the dispute with the union. The previous labor agreement expired over a year ago, and negotiations have since been at an impasse. Despite declining revenue, the union not only demanded everything that it had in the previous agreement, but also asked for increases in health and welfare payments, pension payments and payroll. In exchange, Sheraton asked for what it believed were minor concessions from the union. Housekeepers have been asked to clean two additional rooms each day, which is actually consistent with company standards and those of other hotels throughout the country. Housekeepers at other facilities have had no problems meeting this standard. To facilitate accomplishment of the new standard, the hotel relocated supplies to each floor to increase efficiency and made house aides available to housekeepers so that adequate supplies can be maintained.

Sheraton lays out the following figures, originated from the 14 Anchorage hotels that submit information to Smith Travel, to illustrate the decline in revenue:

-- In 2008, hotel occupancy averaged 67 percent and the average daily room rate was $138.95
-- In 2009, hotel occupancy dropped to 59 percent, while the average daily room rate was at $132.67
-- During the first three months of 2010, hotel occupancy further dropped to 45 percent, and the average daily room rate also dropped

In addition, the Anchorage Convention & Visitors Bureau (ACVB) recently reported that bed tax revenue declined 21 percent from 2008 to 2009, and it forecast another 10 percent drop for 2010. With declining revenues, it is customary for management to ask labor to share in the sacrifice, either by contracting the labor force, curtailing compensation and benefits, and/or increasing productivity.

In another post, Sheraton complained of abusive behavior by a union representative, Daniel Esparza. They allege that Esparza berated one employee and even implicitly threatened another employee with physical violence. When confronted, Esparza allegedly blew it off as a "misunderstanding", so Sheraton sent a letter to the union on April 21st advising them that Esparza is now banned from company property.

Of course, there's more to the story. Incredibly, Local 878 has squandered a valuable public relations opportunity by failing to publish any information about this dispute on their website. For information about labor's side, we turn to Henkimaa, a pro-union blogger. According to Henkimaa, the labor dispute became a full-fledged boycott after an affirmative vote by union members in November 2009. Of course, union members take issue with increase in the number of rooms housekeeping staff were expected to clean from 15 to 17 per day; they fear that the faster they work to meet the new standard, the more vulnerable they become to accidents and injury. But union members also complained about management raising the workers' monthly premium for family health insurance to $800 per month without prior negotiation. Because most hotel workers barely earn what is considered a "living wage", this increase could cause many of them to forego health insurance.

Further fueling the dispute was a decision by Sheraton to fire four striking workers in February for leafletting prospective guests asking them to honor the worker’s call for a boycott of the hotel. They did this on hotel property and failed to cease their activity despite prior warning from the company. Henkimaa maintains that such activity is protected by two previous National Labor Relations Board decisions.

An early resolution of this dispute is not likely. UNITE HERE has a track record of protracted disputes; in this post, they brag about how they won the Frontier strike in Las Vegas, one of the longest strikes in U.S. history lasting six and a half years; no one crossed the line and all strikers got their jobs back with seniority and back pension service credits. But that was in a more prosperous economic climate. Can UNITE HERE command the same bargaining power during a period of higher employment?


  1. I'm very glad the Sheraton is fighting back. We have all had to take a bit of a hit in these times, and this union is being unreasonable.

  2. The claims stated in that blog are second hand at best. The paper she quotes from is from Unite Here. She also says the injuries stem from luxury items like heavy mattresses, glass coffee pots and in room exercise equitment. The sweet sleepers are not that heavy, there are no glass coffee pots but rather single serve disposable cups, and while starwood does do in room exercise equitment, sheraton never receieved that update (though I think its like a yoga mat or something simple).

    And sheraton isnt a luxury hotel, but a business hotel. In fact, we used to call it an airline hotel because the way the large hotels here stay open is through contracts with airline crews. Truth is it was always in the old CBA that they could require Hskprs to do more than 15 rooms, but they were paid like $4 a room for the overage in the old agreement. Its industry standard to clean 17. And they dont require that all the time, its just for a couple months in peak season. Not to mention, 17 rooms means over 45 minutes per room. And since theyre mostly airline rooms, the person is there 8 hours, to sleep in one twin bed, shower and leave. I used to clean those rooms in under 15 minutes.

    They quote housekeeper uinjuries as higher but its by mabey a couple percent. But thats no wonder since they move around the hotel more than a GSA who stands for 8 hours (I guarentee, they have aches and pains too), or a sales manager. Theyre also a HUGE department, sometimes upward of 60 people. Theyre the largest in the hotel. But ask the insurance companies what the leading cause of hotel injury is, and its not housekeeping specific,. but rather accidental slip, trip and fall.

    And the 800$ raise was just made up by the union. The healthcare plan was the same in price. I know, I took it. But we got the same lies too, as Jessica Lawton loved to tell people if you accepted the company plan through aetna, youd be murdering the families of your coworkers. This would be announced during dinner for all to hear. Im sorry I killed your family, but I also really like taking my insulin.

    I dont doubt the company could easily find reason for firing the workers they did, but they didnt need reason because associates can be terminated at any time. I personally caught one of them looking at inappropriate material on the computer during work, so sorry but getting fired doesnt suddenly turn you into a model employee and martyr. And they were warned and had been told before for separate insubordination unrelated to the labor dispute. The company wasnt forced by the NLRB to return the workers, they did so because the NLRB told them theyd not use a 10j injunction if they did. But now the NLRB is renigging and trying to do so again using copycat charges they were already tried on. Not to mention the NLRB investigator is friends with 878 and a openly pro-union supporter.

    None of what the union is fighting for is to benifit workers, but rather their own wants. YOu can read my blog for more( But whats important is that the Union does not represent the workers. We were required to become members or you get fired. And even if the company is found guilty 100 times over, returning the union to bargain with them would be wrong. We signed a petition ousting them. Everyone is just waiting for the chance to vote and prove it, but Jones is demanding the government to intervene and do it for him instead of letting the people choose their rep. What is jones so afraid of?