Workers on strike at Grand Hyatt in SF

November 5, 2009 6:51:19 PM PST
Hotel workers at San Francisco's Grand Hyatt on Union Square hotel are striking for the next three days. And the timing was deliberate; on a big day for the company on Wall Street.

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Union members approved a strike last month and this is the only hotel hit so far. The strike began at 4 a.m. and managers from Hyatt Hotels all over the area are being called in to help because most of the 300 union employees -- the housekeepers, cooks and bus boys are off the job.

"We work every day, so hard. We just earn like $30,000 a year," said housekeeper Kaddie Lin.

Both sides were at the bargaining table just yesterday. For many on the picket line, health care is key. Right now, coverage costs workers no more than $10 a month, but they say over the years they've traditionally accepted lower pay in exchange for good benefits.

"Either we pay for food on the table or go to the doctor. We can't afford both with the proposals that they are putting on the table now," said switchboard operator Aurolyn Rush.

According to the Grand Hyatt's general manager, the latest proposal calls for increases in wages and benefits.

"Either the union is completely out of touch with what's going on with our economy, or they just don't care," said David Nadelman.

Union leaders accuse the hotels of using the economic downturn as an excuse to gain concessions. They timed this strike to coincide with what happened on Wall Street on Thursday. The Hyatt Corporation went public, raking in $950 million for the founder's heirs.

"Meanwhile we've got 300 families here who work at the Grand Hyatt who are seeking to just maintain their health care, their pensions and with some modest wage increases -- 30 cents an hour," said Mike Casey from SEIU Local 2.

Overall, the hotel industry is hurting. According to one report, room rates in San Francisco are the lowest since 2005. This three-day strike certainly won't help the Hyatt.

"They woke me up at some crazy hour in the morning. I could hear it in my room," said Dawn Cato.

"Actually we're checking out and going to a different hotel today," said Cindy Turner.

Health coverage is the key issue and the union said the company wants them to go from paying $10 a month for family coverage to $200 a month by 2010.

The general manager said there are no firm numbers because they are still in the bargaining process. The next negotiating session is scheduled for a week from today.

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