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VOLUME 2, NUMBER 25    <>  MONDAY, JUNE 25, 2001

this & that

marriott.jpg (37905 bytes)“The hotel that is a work of art in itself.” On a sunny Thursday afternoon, the Marriott Hotel on 4th Street is quiet. Visitors come and go, often unaware of the turmoil that has surrounded this site for the past five years.

But on the weekend of June 15-16, the joint was jumping, as a noisy picket line greeted often-astonished guests. The focus of the demonstration was the annual meeting of the American Library Association. The reason for the demonstration was a lot of unfinished business between the hotel and the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union, Local 2. In today’s euphemistic parlance, they’ve got issues.

Yes, that’s right. Even though it hasn’t made the news recently, the disagreement between the union and the hotel is still unresolved. It’s rapidly becoming the Harold Stassen of labor disputes.

It all started back in 1980, when the Redevelopment Agency was once again spiffing up the area south of Market and the Marriott proposed the construction of a downtown hotel. After much wrangling, the hotel signed a “card check” agreement, in effect promising not to oppose efforts to organize its employees into a union. In 1989 the glass-and-chrome giant jukebox shape joined San Francisco’s skyline, but from the getgo the hotel tried to renege on its initial promise, which it said was obtained “under duress.” In 1996 most of the 1,100 employees voted Local 2 their representative.

Contract negotiations began in November 1996 — that’s five years ago. The two sides are still at it. In November 1998, AFL-CIO president John Sweeney was arrested along with 150 other civilly disobedient demonstrators. In September 2000 Our Mayor addressed the picketers, calling for a boycott, “I hope management comes to its senses and gives you a union contract. Until they do, I or anyone else will not set foot into the Marriott!”

But the union and the hotel still can’t agree on a contract. Over the years, the tactics and countertactics have escalated. The union presented the National Labor Relations Board with a “consolidated” complaint, charging that the hotel engaged in some 100 “unfair labor practices.” These include, among a host of other fun activities, creating an impression among employees “that their union activities were under surveillance”; prohibiting employees “from distributing pro-union leaflets at the door into the Bistro 3 employee cafeteria, while permitting the distribution of anti-union leaflets at the same location”; threatening employees “with discipline for talking to other employees about the union”; and telling certain employees that they would not receive a withheld wage increase “until the union goes away.”

Meanwhile, the union has put together a website  to “inform potential customers that the San Francisco Marriott Hotel is involved in a 5-year labor dispute, and a boycott of the hotel has been underway since September 2000. Because hotel accommodations can make or break travel and meeting arrangements, it is crucial that you know that this fight, and specifically the boycott, has been extremely disruptive for the hotel’s guests.” For those who doubt, the boldfaced link offers vivid videotaped evidence of the disruption.

And the librarians? A number of them took one look at the chanting marchers outside the entrance to the hotel and joined the picket line.