Saturday, July 03, 2004

Hotel Workers Reject Management's Offer

By Nancy Cleeland, LA Times Staff Writer

Union hotel workers Thursday overwhelmingly rejected the latest contract offer from nine prominent Los Angeles-area hotels, labor sources said, setting the stage for a new level of maneuvering in the seemingly intractable dispute.

Union leaders said they would announce the vote tally and outline their next steps this morning.

Hotel managers said the rejection of their offer would trigger changes in company health insurance that will require employees to contribute for the first time, at $40 a month. The announcement of the co-pay, made last week, has incited anger and anxiety among workers.

Both sides appeared inflexible on the core issue that separates them: the contract's duration. The union wants a two-year contract that ends in 2006, part of a strategy to line up expiration dates in 10 major U.S. cities that year, giving the union the power to call a national strike.

Hotel negotiators, who are pushing for a five-year contract, have said they would never agree to a two-year deal. Last week, they declared that talks were at an impasse unless the union changed its position. "If we got the length of the contract out of the way, we'd be talking about issues," Tim Loughman, general director of the Westin Century Plaza and St. Regis hotels, said before the votes were tallied.

Loughman added that if the offer was rejected, the hotels, bargaining jointly as the Los Angeles Hotel Employers Council, would consider going back to the table. But he said the hotels would not budge from their demand of a five-year pact.

The hotels' contract with the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union, known as HERE, was due to expire in mid-April but was extended until June 1, when the employers terminated the accord.

Maria Elena Durazo, president of Local 11 of the union, said that she discussed the issue of contract length with workers throughout the daylong vote and that they solidly supported the union strategy. Employers should respect that, she said.

"If they're serious about listening to the workers, they will take that into account," Durazo said, "and then we won't have to take actions and do things like picket lines, marches, contacting customers."

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