Tentative agreement reached in Hilton labor dispute


15 million visitors go to San Francisco every year and they spend 30 cents of every dollar in San Francisco hotels. For the last 18 months, they have run the risk of having to walk through a hotel picket line to get to their rooms. However, there may now be an end in sight.

"We encourage people to come to the Hilton," Mike Casey said Monday.

It has been a long time since a hotel union boss said words like that, but Casey did so Monday as he announced a contract that San Francisco Hilton employees expect to ratify on Friday.

"I think it's a fair agreement for the times," said Bell Captain John Herrmann.

"I don't have any hard feelings. They try to make a profit and we try to survive," said doorman Jacov Awoke.

To hear both sides tell it, this agreement is a win. It raises wages by as much as $2 an hour, increases pension contributions, improves the dental plan, and most important to workers, it protects the health care plan they already had. So, why did it take 18 months?

"They settled because the cost of fighting exceeds the cost of what a settlement looks like," Casey said.

"I can't say why we had angst and consternation, but we did have differences of opinion on the contract and we were able to come to a conclusion," said Hilton General Manager Michael Dunne. "And, it's a great thing for the hotel, and the works at the hotel, and for the city of San Francisco."

Not that this agreement ends labor strife in San Francisco. 8,200 workers at some 50 other hotels including those owned by Hyatt, Intercontinental and Starmark, do not have contracts, but the Hilton rank and file believes this deal provides leverage.

"Usually, the very first contract that's settled, is the one that the other companies have to follow and if not improve upon," said hotel chef Ingrid Karp.

"We negotiated this contract on our own. Prior to these contract negotiations, we negotiated as a multi-employer group. On these negotiations, we negotiated separately," Dunne said.

Casey says, "Time will tell" whether this puts pressure on other companies.

Then again, actions speak louder than words. The union had negotiations scheduled for Friday with the Hyatt group. When the Hyatt group found out about Monday's settlement, they cancelled the session.

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