In calling for a boycott of nine Los Angeles hotels last week, the union representing 2,800 housekeepers, bellmen, cooks, banquet staff and other workers pushed harder than it had since its contract ran out April 15.

It is unlikely to push any further.

Maria Elena Durazo, president of Local 11 of Unite HERE, conceded last week that the organization lacked the financial muscle to back a strike in support of its call for a new contract with improved wages, staffing and health benefits.

"Why are we going to do something that's suicidal?" Durazo said in an interview with Business Journal reporters and editors. "The employers know that they have this extraordinary wealth to wait it out. We saw it with the grocery store workers. (Hotel workers) live from paycheck to paycheck. They are really scared about leaving their jobs."

Durazo also hinted the union might drop its demand for a two-year agreement that would line up the contract's expiration date with pacts in as many as nine other cities, in exchange for gains in other areas.

"Whether or not Los Angeles sticks to the '06 or doesn't stick to the '06, one thing that is absolutely sure is that we have got to be structured differently (nationally) in order to get the attention on the issues that are important to workers."

She would not say what the hotels would have to offer to get Local 11 to drop the two-year contract demand, although she said health insurance coverage and reducing housekeepers' workloads remain priorities. Workers have been charged $10 per week in health coverage since this summer.

Unite HERE locals in L.A., San Francisco and Washington, D.C., want contracts that expire in 2006 so they would be in line with the expiration dates of agreements in Boston, Chicago, New York, Toronto and other cities. That would essentially create a national bargaining unit.

Synching the contracts has been the most contentious issue with the hotels, which are looking for a five-year agreement. But Durazo pointed out that six to 10 cities in the U.S. and Canada already have master agreements that expire in 2006, or agreements with individual hotels enough to put a squeeze on the national operators and lessening the sense of urgency for L.A. to get a two-year agreement.

Few options

The union's Nov. 10 call for a boycott was designed to put a financial squeeze on the hotels without costing union members the lost wages that would come with a walkout.


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