Answers to Five Common Questions about the Westin Long Beach and UNITE HERE
Thursday, May 28, 2015
Posted by: Tim Lloyd
AFS member Dave Stanley of Salt Lake City sent the questions below to the AFS office. With his permission, we are posting his questions and our responses for interested members.
1. Is the Westin Long Beach locally owned as a franchise or is this the international corporation at work?
It's important to understand the differences among hotel owners and management companies, which are most often not the same companies. For the most part, the companies we think of as hotel companies (e.g., Hilton, Marriott, Starwood, Hyatt) do not themselves own or operate all the hotels that carry their brand names.
Owners of hotels may be particular individuals, a partnership of individuals (e.g., a group of physicians), or publicly held corporations or real estate investment trusts (REITs). Hotel owners contract with hotel management companies to either operate their hotels or contract as a franchise of the hotel company brand. Hotel companies (like Hilton or Starwood) contract with particular hotel owners to carry their brand, which includes property management systems, sales, and marketing services.
The Westin Long Beach hotel is owned by the Noble Investment Group, an Atlanta-based company that focuses on real estate investments in the hospitality industry and owns Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, and Starwood hotels (see below). The Westin Long Beach is operated by Interstate Hotels and Resorts, which currently operates hotels under several brand names, including some of the hotels of the Best Western, Courtyard, Crowne Plaza, Doubletree, Hilton, Hilton Garden Inn, La Quinta, Residence Inn, and Westin brands. The Westin hotel brand is one of 10 hotel brands of Starwood Hotels and Resorts.
2. Are the union organizers who have been contacting us, as a group and individually, professional union people or are they currently hotel workers?
The people who have contacted AFS staff and board members, and those whom our members report have contacted them, are employees of UNITE HERE Local 11, which is seeking to represent Westin Long Beach hospitality and housekeeping workers.
UNITE HERE is headquartered in New York City and in 2013 had 263,011 members, 349 employees, and assets of $107 million, according to www.unionfacts.com.
Two unions, the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE, a descendant, in part, of the well-known International Ladies Garment Workers Union of the first third of the 20th century) and the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union (HERE), joined in 2004 to form this new union. In 2009, these two unions split apart, a process largely characterized by acrimony and lawsuits over the division of very significant financial assets, according to labornotes.org. The UNITE side, for the most part, left the merged union and allied itself with the Service Workers International Union, and the HERE side, which continues to focus on hotel and restaurant employees, retained the combined name from 2004.
3. Los Angeles recently passed a law making the minimum wage $15 an hour. Is such a law on the agenda for the Long Beach City Council? When is it likely to come to a vote?
In 2012, by a very large margin Long Beach voters passed a living wage law for hotel workers, indexed to inflation, that presently stipulates a minimum wage of $13.25 per hour. We expect that the passage of the Los Angeles law (which, like the Long Beach one, was championed by UNITE HERE) will encourage a campaign to raise Long Beach's to match Los Angeles's, which would be a very positive development.
4. Is the question of unionization primarily about pay (a $15 minimum wage would probably make the issue moot) or is it about benefits, working conditions, advancement opportunities, race, ethnicity, gender, etc.?
UNITE HERE has only told us that they are seeking respect for the Westin workers, and neutrality from the Westin regarding possible coercion of workers in the process of a unionization vote. Last week I wrote the president of the local again asking for specific demands (about pay, conditions, hours, etc.) that we could help them advocate for with the Westin. We suspect that the question is about all of these things, and that unionization would provide a means to these ends.
5. Is the union trying to organize all hotel workers or only certain wage categories, like housekeepers or desk clerks or maintenance people?
UNITE HERE focuses its attention on hotel hospitality (food and beverage) and housekeeping workers.