From the first city-wide restaurant strike in 1901, when 2,000 workers demanded a six-day work week;
From the 1916 strike in which 3,000 restaurant workers struck for an 8-hour day;
From the mass sit-in at the Palace Hotel in 1964, when civil rights activists demanded that management hire African Americans into front-of-the-house jobs;
From the four week hotel strike in 1980 and the two-month lockout in 2004, which shut down many of San Francisco’s hotels;
From the continuing struggle of non-union hospitality workers who fight every day to win a voice on the job…
UNITE HERE! Local 2 has a storied history of perseverance, commitment and courage in its struggle to secure justice for working families.
History of Hospitality and Food Service Workers in San Francisco
1863 – The Benevolent Society of Cooks & Waiters goes on strike, the first recorded work action in San Francisco’s hospitality industry.
1886 – Restaurant workers organize District Assembly 58 of the Knights of Labor, and strike 50 restaurants in solidarity with the Bakers Union. In the same year, DA 58 joins other local unions in establishing the San Francisco Labor Council.
1901 – District Assembly 58 joins the Hotel Restaurant Employees International Alliance as Waiters Union Local 30. On May Day, 2000 restaurant workers launch the first city-wide strike in HERE’s history, demanding a six-day work week. The Bakers, Butchers, and other San Francisco Labor Council unions eventually join in the strike, but are unable to achieve their core demands with the Employers’ Association.
1902 – Waiters Local 30 organizes the first of several sister unions, Bartenders Local 41, Cooks Local 44, and Cooks’ Helpers Local 110. Together, these unions constitute the Culinary Joint Board and in the same year win the six-day week in negotiations with the San Francisco Restaurant Keepers’ Association.
1906 – Waitresses Local 48 is founded as a member of the Joint Board. The Great Earthquake and Fire destroy much of San Francisco, leaving thousands dead, homeless, or unemployed. Members erect a temporary union hall at the corner of Mission and Sixth Streets.
Culinary workers erect a temporary union hall in the aftermath of the 1906 quake.
1916 – 3,000 San Francisco restaurant workers walk out on strike demanding an 8-hour day. In the November elections, the Restaurant Keepers Association succeeded in passing an anti-picketing ballot initiative. Under intense police pressure, the union called off the strike in December, without achieving its core demand.
1918 – Palace Hotel workers win union recognition — the first employees of an upscale San Francisco hotel to do so. In contract negotiations, they are able to secure a 9-hour day.
1920-23 – The Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution is ratified, outlawing alcohol and creating mass unemployment among bartenders and brewers. Meanwhile, employers (such as the San Francisco Hotel Association) take advantage of depression and the Red Scare to launch an assualt on HRE and other trade unions.
1930s – In the midst of the Great Depression, the San Francisco locals set up “soup barns” where unemployed cooks and waiters served up relief to their brothers and sisters.
1934 – San Francisco hotel workers walk out concurrently with the Longshore Union strike of May-June. On June 5, two union activists — including a member of the Cooks Local 44 — are shot dead by the employers’ militia. In response, the Labor Council calls a three-day General Strike, in which 150,000 workers across the Bay Area participate.
1937 – On May Day, 4,700 hotel workers walk out on strike in support of the “miscellaneous workers” (dishwashers, bussers, and others) who were seeking to join the union. After 89 days on the picket line, union members returned to work. The terms of settlement included recognition for almost all the “miscellaneous workers” (under Local 110), as well as the first truly comprehensive Class A hotel contract in San Francisco.
1941 – During the summer, the newly-formed San Francisco Employers Council provoked a widespread restaurant strike by imposing 30% wage cuts. Soon thereafter, the Hotel Employers Association took the opportunity to provoke a series of hotel strikes in which it, too, sought concessions. The Hotel Employers were dealt a blow during October, when the Sir Francis Drake Hotel peeled off of the group under new management — having recently been acquired by Conrad Hilton. The remaining strikes ended in December, when the War Labor Board arbitrated a settlement to all strikes after Pearl Harbor.
1945 – Former Secretary of Waiters Local 30, Hugo Ernst becomes General President of the HRE International Union.
1950s – During a decade of rapid commercial development, San Francisco’s hotel industry surpasses 3000 rooms. While it resulted in many new hospitality jobs, the building boom came at a steep price: thousands were evicted as developers razed many of the city’s working class, especially African American, neighborhoods.
1964 – Civil rights activists stage a mass sit-in at the Palace Hotel, demanding that management hire African Americans into front-of-the-house jobs.
1975 – San Francisco’s various culinary and bartenders’ unions merge to form Hotel & Restaurant Employees Local 2.
1980 – For the first time in forty years, a major labor dispute wreaks havoc in San Francisco’s hotel industry, with workers walking out at 36 hotels for four weeks.
1984 – Seizing on the growing anti-union political climate, restauranteurs provoke strikes at dozens of San Francisco restaurants. Meanwhile, hotel developers start building a wave of non-union hotels.
1989 – The union embarks on an ambitious campaign to rebuild power in the San Francisco hospitality industry. In city-wide negotiations, Local 2 bargains a longer-term, 5-year contract to devote more attention to organizing. Workers at the Grand Hyatt and Hyatt Regency strike in support of the right to organize, while workers at the non-union Parc 55 form an organizing committee. Days after the Hyatt strike ends, the Loma Prieta earthquake temporarily disrupts Bay Area tourism.
1993-4 – Workers at the Parc 55 win the right to join Local 2, turning the tide of falling union density in San Francisco’s hotel industry. Meanwhile, workers prepare for upcoming contract negotiations. Key issues include the threat of subcontracting and job security in the event of hotel sales. In late 1994, workers at the Mark Hopkins walk out over the hotel’s refusal to accept the same contract terms as other upscale properties.
1996 – Marriott Hotel workers organize to join the union. The hotel initially refuses to honor the terms of a card check agreement it had previously signed, sparking a long-running labor dispute over the right to organize and a fair contract. After six years of picket lines, a limited duration strike, and boycott, workers win their first contract in 2002.
1998-2001 – During yet another building boom in San Francisco’s hotel industry, numerous hotels open their doors. This time, however, most of the hotels have agreed card check neutrality, permitting their workers to join the union without resorting to drawn-out labor disputes.
1999 – In citywide hotel negotiations, the union gains significant improvements in the living standards of hotel workers – including a reduction in roomcleaners’ workload, improved pensions, and job security in the event of hotel sales.
2004 – The Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees International Union merges with UNITE, the textile and laundry workers union. Meanwhile, members of HERE Local 340 in San Mateo County vote to merge with Local 2.
2004-2006 – Local 2 responds to the growing power of hotel corporations by stepping up its coordination with sister hotel unions throughout the US and Canada. Members demand to renegotiate their contract at the same time as workers throughout North America. On September 29, 2004, with the hotel companies refusing to agree to a 2-year contract, and continuing to demand huge concessions, Local 2 launches a 2-week strike at 4 hotels. The Multi Employer Group retaliates with an indefinite lockout at 14 hotels. With constant picket lines turning away business, intense pressure from the San Francisco community, and solidarity actions throughout North America and the world, the hotels end their lockout in late November.
The boycott of Multi Employer Group hotels continues through 2005 and much of 2006, while San Francisco hotel workers continue working without contract. In 2006, negotiations commence in Toronto, New York, Honolulu, Chicago, Monterey, Boston, Los Angeles, and several other cities in the US and Canada. With the support of all these cities, Local 2 negotiates a landmark contract with the Multi Employer Group. The settlement includes improvements in wages, pension benefits, health care, as well as card check neutrality at after-acquired hotels in San Francisco and San Mateo Counties.
2008 – Over 300 workers at 2 non-union hotels; The Hyatt Fisherman’s Wharf and the Le Meridien hotel are leading the struggle for non-union hotel workers in San Francisco. They are seeking Card Check Neutrality agreements from their employers. In February 2009, a majority of workers at both hotels are calling for boycotts of their employers.
2018 – Nearly 8,000 UNITE HERE members at Marriott hotels across the U.S. go on strike. San Francisco is the biggest strike city, and its strike lasts the longest, with 2,500 Local 2 members striking for 61 days. Strikers introduce the slogan “One Job Should Be Enough” because many are working two or even three jobs to make ends meet. The victorious Marriott Strike raises the citywide union wage standard by over $4 per hour and preserves the Local 2 standard of affordable, platinum-tier health insurance coverage for the whole family. Other victories include job security measures, panic buttons to protect against sexual harassment, and increased pension contributions.
2019 – Approx. 200 workers at the San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront vote to join Local 2. It is among the first NLRB union elections ever won by Marriott workers. The workers’ first contract in 2021 raises wages by nearly $5 per hour for some classifications, and health insurance premiums for some plans drop by over $200 per month. Workers also win dental insurance and a union pension.
2019 – Approx. 1,500 airline catering workers at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) vote to strike when released by the National Mediation Board. The workers, who prepare in-flight food and beverage served on flights departing the airport, are demanding higher wages and affordable health care; less than 50 percent of workers at the SFO airline catering kitchens where workers have authorized a strike had employer-provided health insurance in 2018, and just 10 percent had a child or other family member covered. Monthly premiums are up to $800. The strike vote at SFO coincides with votes by thousands of airline catering workers in 20 other cities across the country, and there are over 80 arrests of workers and supporters in subsequent civil disobedience actions at SFO.
2020 – COVID shutdowns devastate San Francisco’s hospitality industry, and 98 percent of Local 2 members are furloughed. The Local 2 health care trust fund uses its reserves to help laid-off members and their families keep their health insurance. While non-union workers are terminated by their employers, the union negotiates to protect members’ right to get their jobs as businesses reopen. These so-called “recall rights” are extended through 2024.
2020 – Airline catering workers at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) help lead the fight for San Francisco’s Healthy Airport Ordinance. The new law requires employers to provide free family health insurance to approx. 9,450 workers at SFO. Some airline catering workers have been paying premiums of approx. $800 per month for family health insurance and will now get it for free.
2021 – Hundreds of food service workers at the SF Giants’ Oracle Park vote to strike as negotiations over COVID safety, health care, and hazard pay stall between Local 2 and Giants food service contractor, Bon Appetit. At least 20 concessions workers have been infected with COVID-19 since the stadium’s reopening. A strike is averted as workers win a new contract with $7/hour wage increases, hazard pay for the 2020 and 2021 seasons, improved eligibility for affordable family health care, and a commitment to enforce mask requirements and other COVID safety rules.
2022 – Approx. 275 workers at Marriott’s Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay vote to join Local 2. The luxury oceanfront resort is Half Moon Bay’s biggest employer, and workers begin bargaining their first contract with the goal of giving the town’s hospitality workers a path to the middle class.
2022 – UNITE HERE Local 2 grows as members vote to merge with Local 2850, the UNITE HERE chapter for the East and North Bay. The newly merged “superunion” includes over 15,000 workers in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, San Mateo County, Sonoma County, and more, giving workers more power as they face rising inflation and recover from massive COVID layoffs.
2022 – Approx. 1,000 food service workers go on strike at San Francisco International Airport (SFO)’s restaurants, coffee shops, lounges, and more. Workers say their wages are sometimes lower than the price of a single menu item in the restaurants where they work. The three-day strike shuts down most of the airport’s food and beverage outlets. Workers win $5/hour wage increases, free platinum-tier health insurance (including medical, dental, and vision coverage for the whole family), and increased pension contributions.