Bernie Sanders made a surprise stop in San Francisco Wednesday afternoon after joining a rally for hotel workers marching to the Le Meridien Hotel.
‘Surprise’ visit gives a boost to the boycott of Le Meridien and Fisherman’s Wharf Hyatt
Bernie Sanders showed up today to support the hotel workers boycotting the Le Meridien, and while it was supposed to be a surprise, by 4pm every activist in town had heard about it on social media and the rally was packed.
On the surface, it was a typical campaign event: The cops closed off the streets, we heard sirens, and at the perfect moment, two white limos showed up and, after the Secret Service made sure the coast was clear, Bernie emerged, walked up to the stage outside of 101 California, and made a rousing speech.
He talked about the importance of unions, about how workers with unions have better pay and working conditions. He called for a $15 an hour national minimum wage. He said that he stood with the Local 2 members in their struggle, and called on the “billion-dollar corporations” that own the hotels to sign a union contract.
With any luck, the news media coverage will focus on the boycott and not just on Bernie, because there’s a real story here.
For years, the people who work at La Meridien (and at the Fisherman’s Wharf Hyatt) have been trying to get a fair vote on a union contract. For years, management has resisted. The hotels have been on the boycott list and Local 2 has been trying to put pressure on them, but the giant company that owns both places has refused to back down.
Like an increasing number of hotels these days, La Meridien and the FW Hyatt are owned not by a hotel corporation, or anyone with a background in the business, but by a real-estate investment trust. These Wall Street operations see hotels not as places where people work or stay but as real-estate opportunities; in many cases, they are in for the short term and would just as soon flip the properties or turn them into something else.
(This, by the way, is one reason that the hotel industry has been late to, or missing from, the battle against Airbnb; the owners aren’t hotel people, could care less if their business model fails, and just want the property, which might as well be condos or offices as far as they’re concerned.)
But there are people who work at these hotels, and they are getting cuts in hours, loss of breaks, increased workloads – and a brutal anti-union campaign that the union says includes management threats and intimidation.
So the march today, which was more than 1,000 strong, was about forcing this outfit to the table, and the presence of a serious presidential candidate may help.
It was also a chance for the labor unions that support Sanders (the nurses, Local 2, CWA, and some others) to show up and make it clear that the message Bernie has put out is still part of the political debate, even after it appears that he won’t be the nominee.
I don’t see Hillary Clinton ever showing up at this kind of rally, and taking on a Wall Street company this way.
Sanders – again, as is typical in a presidential race – spoke for about seven minutes, then shook some hands and was escorted away.
I never got a chance to shout out a question.
When he started his speech, Sanders noted that he had only been in San Francisco for a few hours, but was stunned at the number of homeless people on the streets. He talked about the need for good jobs rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure.
Here’s what I would have asked:
Even a good union job in SF doesn’t pay enough to afford the rent. There are homeless people in significant part because the federal government under Ronald Reagan stopped spending money on urban housing, and no president since 1980, of either party, has made any effort to bring that funding back.
How much would a Sanders Administration spend on fighting homelessness by building housing? What would he do to fund a huge increase in mental-health treatment programs? And why hasn’t this been a part of the presidential debate?
And why am I the only reporter who seems to be asking this question?
San Francisco Examiner
By Brendan P. Bartholomew on May 5, 2016
A multiyear effort by elected officials to bring a new hotel to San Bruno appears to have an additional hurdle to clear.
The proposed hotel would be built by South Carolina-based OTO Development on a 1.5-acre parcel of city-owned land on El Camino Real, which the City Council agreed to sell to the developer for its appraised value of $3.97 million.
But the union-backed referendum would reverse the council’s recent approval of the sale.
At issue is Unite Here’s desire for a guarantee that workers at the proposed hotel would be able to unionize without fear of retaliation. San Bruno officials have not obtained such a promise from OTO.
But OTO spokesperson Sam Singer previously told the San Francisco Examiner that any implication the developer would retaliate against employees for exercising their legal right to organize was “utterly false.”
Unite Here spokesperson Laurel Fish said she is skeptical of OTO’s willingness to let employees organize without fear of reprisal.
“It’s a red herring for OTO to say workers have a legal right to organize, yet at the same time say, in a public hearing, that they don’t want anything coming between them and their employees, and they think the hotel would be better off without a union,” Fish said.
San Bruno resident Carolina Calvo said working at a non-union hotel was such a grim experience, she eventually sought work at a unionized property. During her four years as a housekeeper at the Fairfield Inn & Suites in Millbrae, Calvo claimed her wage never topped $9.50 per hour, and she was afraid to demand better treatment.
“We used to clean 16 rooms per day with no benefits, no vacation, no sick days and no pension,” Calvo said. “And we were always afraid to talk about our rights.”
Singer claimed even without being a union house, the proposed hotel would provide good working conditions and compensation.
“The employees will have health insurance, life insurance and a 401(k),” Singer said. “These are good-paying jobs that are going to be competitive with other hotels in the area.”
Fish acknowledged nonunion hotel desk clerks in San Mateo County often enjoy compensation well above the minimum wage, but the labor organizer said the same couldn’t be said for non-union housekeepers.
“‘Competitive wages’ is a real misnomer in a job market where non-union housekeepers typically start at minimum wage or just above,” Fish said, “The average non-union housekeeper makes about $19,000 per year.”
When asked whether using the referendum process to put the brakes on the hotel development might be detrimental to workers, who would have to wait longer for the proposed hotel to start hiring, Fish said, “You could say the same thing about a proposed Wal-Mart, or about any bottom-of-the-barrel employer.”
Singer said it would be premature to speculate about whether the project will be delayed, because the signatures the union has gathered still need to be validated by the city. And Singer claimed it is not clear whether the referendum’s language would stand up to a legal challenge.
“There’s been no delay, and we’re not sure right now if there will be a delay,” Singer said. “Unite Here’s action may have no impact, other than as a publicity stunt.”
Some San Bruno residents and a labor union have filed a lawsuit against the city to force more transparency regarding a proposed land sale and hotel development.
But city officials say the lawsuit won’t delay the project, and they already plan to disclose the information the lawsuit seeks.
At issue is a 1.5-acre plot of city-owned land on El Camino Real at Interstate 380. The parcel is next to Jack’s Restaurant and Bar, and sits in one corner of a group of housing developments collectively known as The Crossing.
Wages to soar 40 percent for SFO catering workers
By Sara Gaiser
An expanded wage and benefit policy approved by the San Francisco International Airport Commission Tuesday will raise the wages of workers at airline catering companies and could help reduce turnover, according to airport and union officials.
However the vote does not eliminate the risk of labor action at one Burlingame company, where workers negotiating for better pay and benefits recently voted to authorize a strike, union officials said today.
The commission voted today to expand the airport’s Quality Standards Program, or QSP, originally created to cover security screeners working as contract employees, to include airline-catering employees at three local companies, according to airport spokesman Doug Yakel.
The food companies produce on-board food for passengers off-site and deliver it to planes on the tarmac in trucks.
The QSP, which now covers around 12,500 contract employees in positions involving safety and security at SFO, establishes training, equipment, compensation and benefits standards for contractors, according to airport officials. The changes approved today will take effect on March 1, 2016.
Airport spokesman Doug Yakel said of the program:
“The goal is to increase safety and security by reducing turnover.”
In practice, it means that the lowest paid workers at the catering companies will see their pay increase from about $9.44 an hour to about $13.52 an hour, according to officials with United Here Local 2, the union representing those workers.
Local 2 President Anand Singh said:
“This is a very positive step forward, and it will impact hundreds of working people down the Peninsula who make the food for the airlines.”
Workers at the Burlingame-based Flying Food Group voted in September to authorize a strike. Union officials today said that a strike remains possible because while the commission’s action will raise wages for the lowest-paid workers, it does not address how much the higher paid workers will receive or resolve issues with health and retirement benefits.
“In the end, we think that it’s not the catering companies themselves but the airlines that will need to address this. … They’re the ones that are ultimately profiting from these dead-end, low-wage jobs.”
A call to Flying Food Group officials was not returned.