The prospect of a settlement in the long-running labor dispute between unionized hotel workers and their Los Angeles employers brightened as negotiations were set to resume this week.


Unite HERE Local 11, representing 2,800 workers at nine area hotels, and the Los Angeles Hotel Employers Council were scheduled to meet at the bargaining table Dec. 12 and 13. A mediator from the L.A. office of the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service was scheduled to attend the talks or at least be available as needed. The participation of the mediator was seen as a positive sign, since the service generally steps in when there is an indication of a possible breakthrough.


John Arnold, a spokesman for the agency, refused to characterize the negotiations, but said, "There is an opportunity for fruitful discussions."


A breakthrough could come with the union's willingness to drop its long-standing demand for a two-year contract in exchange for management concessions in other areas.


Forgoing a two-year deal that would line up the expiration date with agreements in as many as nine other cities would eliminate a key sticking point that has stalled negotiations since before the most recent five-year contract expired April 15. The sides have not sat down to negotiate since Sept. 2.


With the two-year demand apparently off the table, the attention has turned to demands by Unite HERE for increased wages and benefits, as well as reduced workloads for its members, particularly housekeepers.


"The ultimate goal is to get everything the workers are asking for, but everything is negotiable," said Hilda Delgado, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, which is assisting Unite HERE at the bargaining table. "Health care is one of the most important things."


Union press releases state that employers won't cover projected increases in health costs to maintain the existing level of benefits, but hotel council officials countered that they will guarantee full employer-paid coverage if the union drops its demand for a two-year deal.


"We think this economic package that we've proposed is generous," said Fred Muir, a consultant to the hotel council. "Free health care is a benefit that very few Americans enjoy."


There is still a wide gap on wages. Unite HERE had demanded increases of $2.75 per hour for non-tipped employees, $1.50 for tipped workers and 37 cents per hour in pension benefits all wrapped in a two-year deal.


The hotel operators countered this summer with a "best and final offer" over the life of a new five-year pact of increases of $2.15 for non-tipped employees, 40 cents for tipped workers and an increase of 10 cents per hour in the pension.


Still hanging over the talks is the union's call for a boycott of the council hotels and the pending withdrawal from the council of the St. Regis in Century City. The hotel is slated for conversion to condominiums at the cost of about 200 union jobs.


Faced with the prospect of the conversion, Councilman Martin Ludlow was expected to introduce a motion last week that would put a three- to six-month moratorium on permits for such projects until city officials have a chance to study the issue.


"Policies like this let us take our breath before we plunge into a new thing that will have an effect on working families and the vital tourism sector of our economy," said Josh Kamensky, press deputy to Councilman Eric Garcetti, who was expected to second the moratorium.

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