After six months of unusually bitter contract negotiations, union workers at The Saint Paul Hotel will vote May 17 on a tentative agreement with the company on a new three-year contract. Leaders of UNITE HERE Local 17, the union that represents about 170 workers at the downtown hotel, are recommending members vote to accept the tentative agreement. Local 17 President Nancy Goldman would not comment on details, but said the agreement includes “everything we asked for and more.”
The union’s previous contract with The Saint Paul Hotel expired Dec. 1, 2011.
Local 17 has represented the hotel’s workers since 1984, but when contract talks began last November, management surprised union negotiators by insisting on steep concessions from the hotel’s workers.
According to Goldman, the company sought to dramatically decrease its contribution to workers’ health insurance and pension benefits. Management also proposed rolling back new employees’ wages by as much as $8 per hour.
While The Saint Paul Hotel insisted on concessions, it never pleaded poverty in negotiations, Goldman said.
“We have never had this sort of dispute go on (at The Saint Paul Hotel), and there was absolutely no need for it,” she said. “Management never claimed to have an economic problem. I asked them outright, ‘Is it because you can’t afford it?’ and they said no.”
With negotiations deadlocked, Local 17 ratcheted up public pressure on the high-profile hotel, mobilizing a network of supporters throughout the community that included labor federations, progressive groups and faith-based organizations.
Twice over the winter, the union turned out dozens of people for informational picketing outside the hotel. Supporters also called and e-mailed management to voice their disgust.
Goldman said the public response forced hotel negotiators to “come off their position” of demanding concessions.
“So many people called and e-mailed the hotel,” she said. “I know several organizations pulled their business out of there, and a lot of people stayed out of the hotel. Several large pieces of business for the hotel booked their functions elsewhere.”
Local 17’s successful contract campaign, Goldman added, speaks to the value local unions gain from being a part of the larger labor community. The St. Paul Regional Labor Federation, she said, played a key role in building public pressure on the hotel to negotiate fairly with its workers.
“President Bobby Kasper and the Regional Labor Federation were extremely helpful in this,” she said. “Bobby made phone calls, he spoke directly to the manager and the general manager over there, and the RLF assisted with rallies and getting people there.”