This week marks a sad anniversary in San Francisco: It was one year ago that Unite Here Local 2 decided that it would rather attack The City’s economic lifeblood than agree on a new contract for its members.
Local 2 represents workers in unionized hotels in The City. Their contracts expired Aug. 14, 2009. Since then, the union has engaged in an all-out campaign to undermine the hotels and San Francisco’s largest single industry — tourism. In the process, they have put the livelihood of tens of thousands of workers at risk, including their own members.
A contract could already have been reached if Local 2’s leaders were truly interested in coming to the bargaining table to meet hotel representatives, who have been ready and willing to negotiate. Yet, between December and June, Local 2 has spent far more time protesting than bargaining.
Instead of trying to negotiate a new contract, Local 2’s leaders have sought to pursue their own political agenda. They have staged countless walkouts and picket lines claiming there was “no progress” in reaching a contract that they were unwilling to negotiate. These actions have disrupted the same hotel guests who pay their wages, at a time when tourism is declining and hotels are struggling to fill rooms.
Local 2’s leaders have issued calls for convention planners to boycott San Francisco, to cancel their plans to hold large events here and to prevent the planning of future events. Because major conventions need to plan a year or more in advance — and usually alternate their location between the East and West coasts — this boycott has the effect of costing San Francisco three or four years worth of convention business.
Hotels have been the target of these harmful actions, but they represent just 30 cents of every tourism dollar spent in San Francisco. The other 70 cents supports taxi drivers, servers at restaurants and bars, tour guides, convention center workers and many others.
Local 2’s actions have already hurt tens of thousands of San Francisco workers and directly drained The City’s already-depleted coffers. Tax revenue has been lost from diminished hotel taxes, sales taxes and convention center fees that could have been used to pay for vital services, such as health care, affordable housing and keeping up tourist attractions. Also, The City has spent a significant amount on public safety services surrounding Local 2’s staged media events.
Most recently, Local 2 arranged for about 900 protesters to block all access to Stockton Street and the area around Union Square at the height of rush hour. More than 100 officers were required to handle the event, officers who were either pulled from other duties or paid overtime to deal with the protest.
When any other group stages an event, the organizers must pay The City for the cost of those police services. Yet, incredibly, Local 2 was able to disrupt The City in such a manner without paying for more than a permit. Instead, the cost was borne by taxpayers — including the very tourism industry workers in Local 2 seeks to protect. Local 2 leadership should be held accountable by everyone in The City, and by its own members.
It’s clear that securing a contract for its members is not the priority of Local 2’s leadership. All their actions support a different agenda, one that may help the union’s national strategy but does incredible harm to San Francisco members and the economy upon which they and their families depend.
Enough is enough. Both sides need to go back to the bargaining table and join in good-faith negotiations to resolve this dispute. It would be an important step in accelerating economic recovery in our city.
Patricia Breslin is executive director of the San Francisco Hotel Council and Steve Falk is president and CEO of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.