What The Hell Is Wrong With The Sheraton Anchorage Hotel?
October 18, 2010 - 8:47pm ET
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Negotiations for a union contract are not customarily conducted through advertisements in a daily newspaper. Which is why readers of last Sunday's Anchorage Daily News were doubtless surprised to see a half-page advertisement by the Sheraton Anchorage Hotel & Spa that wasn't touting the virtues of the Sheraton's facilities or bargain-basement off-season prices. Instead, the ad was an "open letter" to Marvin Jones, President of UNITE HERE Local 878, the union that represents the Sheraton's housekeepers, bell staff, banquet workers, and other hourly employees.
In this letter, the Sheraton, which the union accused more than a year ago of violating federal law by refusing to bargain in good faith for a successor agreement, now promised Local 878 that it would “negotiate a contract” if the union agreed to permit a “decertification election” to occur within 30 days.
It was a different kind of a pitch, made by a different kind of employer. How different?
Well, for over a year now, the Anchorage Sheraton, a/k/a the Remington Hotel Corporation, and its owners, Ashford TRS Nickel LLC, a division of Ashford Hospitality Trust, a publicly traded real estate investment trust, have been engaged in a vicious anti-union campaign against both the hotel’s workers and their union. According to the enforcement arm of National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the federal agency which oversees private sector labor relations, the Sheraton has, during this time, committed the following unlawful acts, among others:
• Bargained with no intention of reaching an agreement;
• Refused to meet to bargain with the union at reasonable times/and or places;
• Unlawfully changed the terms and conditions of employment for workers, including increasing the number of rooms housekeeping employees are expected to clean each shift from 15 to 17, ceasing to pay employees for meal breaks and making employees pay to eat in the employee cafeteria;
• Unlawfully subcontracted out bargaining unit work (the job of driving the hotel van);
• Fired four workers who, on February 2, 2010, exercised their federally-protected right to express their opinions about the hotel’s labor relations policies by handing out leaflets and handbills in front of the hotel;
• Interrogated workers regarding their support for the union;
• Told workers that they would be fired if they refused to sign a petition withdrawing support for the union; and ultimately
• Unlawfully declared on July 2, 2010, that the Sheraton was now a “non-union” hotel.
The Sheraton has also allegedly stripped workers of their union healthcare plan and numerous other benefits; told workers that they would get many of these benefits restored if they throw out the union; installed surveillance cameras throughout the hotel and spied on the workers in the employee lunchroom; and prohibited union representatives from having access to the hotel.
The enforcement arm of the NLRB, after reaching the conclusions noted above, initiated a prosecution of the Anchorage Sheraton. That case began in August of 2010 in front of a federal administrative law judge and is likely to continue at least until the end of this year.
In response, the Sheraton has only ramped up its aggressive attack on the union, its workers, and anyone and anything that the Sheraton perceives as supporting them. Most recently, the Sheraton has taken the following, truly remarkable steps:
• It subpoenaed Paul Abowd, a former journalist with Labor Notes, a magazine and website that styles itself as “the voice of union activists,” who knows nothing about the Sheraton-Local 878 dispute, demanding that he fly to Anchorage from Detroit, Michigan, to testify about a story he wrote about UNITE HERE (Local 878’s parent entity) for the magazine in October of 2009;
• It subpoenaed representatives of the Anchorage Hilton, its cross-town rival, to testify unwillingly regarding wholly unrelated actions by Local 878 in negotiations with that hotel;
• It sued Local 878 in federal court, claiming that Local 878 has defamed it and has unlawfully attempted to coerce potential customers of the hotel from using the hotel’s services (actions otherwise known as lawfully publicizing a labor dispute and engaging in a lawful boycott); and most recently, and extraordinarily,
• It sued the National Labor Relations Board itself, asserting that the NLRB, by finding merit in Local 878’s many claims against the hotel, has itself violated the law.
Local 878 is not, of course, taking any of this lying down. For every new unlawful action the Sheraton has taken, such as suing it in federal court, Local 878 has filed a new charge with the federal government, asserting that this action, too, violates federal labor law. Local 878’s members continue to appear at the ongoing federal trial and testify regarding the harassment and intimidation to which the hotel has subjected them. The judge in that case continues to listen to the evidence, objectively, and will in all likelihood issue a verdict that will reveal to the world at large the truth of the Sheraton’s unlawful and outrageous misconduct.
So it is no wonder that the Sheraton, having failed to gain any support from journalists, other hotels, or the NLRB, and no doubt anticipating (correctly) that it will not gain any advantage from its two pending federal court lawsuits, is using the power of its purse to pressure Local 878 and its members to give up. It took out its half-page ad because the simple truth is that it is losing the battle against its own workers, and it is getting desperate.
But Local 878 and its members are not going to give up just because the Sheraton takes out an ad in a newspaper calling upon it to agree to an election now, while the Sheraton’s reign of terror over the workers is still in full swing. Local 878 and its members are not going to give up just because the Sheraton has the money to take out a half-page ad, while the union’s resources have been strained by the need to defend itself against the Sheraton’s many unlawful actions.
Local 878 and its members will not, in fact, give up at all. It is the Sheraton, instead, which needs to change its behavior and remedy its unfair labor practices. Once that happens, housekeeping employees will once more be expected to clean only 15 rooms per shift, employees will once more be paid for meal breaks and be able to eat for free in the employee cafeteria, the van driving work will once again be performed by Sheraton employees, and – most importantly – workers will no longer be afraid to express their honest opinions, to each other and to the public, about their workplace and their employer.
Then, and only then, can a new contract be negotiated between Local 878 and the Sheraton. And that’s something that no amount of paid advertising can change.
Dmitri Iglitzin is a partner with the firm of Schwerin Campbell Barnard Iglitzin & Lavitt, LLP, in Seattle, Washington, a frequent commentator on matters related to the labor movement, and legal counsel to UNITE HERE Local 878.
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