By LARRY KANTER
AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney has threatened “stronger, international actions” in the increasingly bitter labor battle at Little Tokyo’s New Otani Hotel & Gardens, after the hotel’s owners refused to meet with the U.S. labor leader during his recent visit to Japan.
“The AFL-CIO will increase its efforts to publicize the boycott campaign of non-union New Otani hotels worldwide and to expose the intolerable treatment of workers at its Los Angeles Hotel,” Sweeney said in a strongly worded statement upon his return last week.
The battle to unionize 300 mostly immigrant workers at the New Otani has become one of the top priorities for the U.S. labor movement.
Sweeney had hoped to press the union’s case directly to officials of Kajima Corp., the Japanese construction conglomerate that owns a controlling interest in the L.A. hotel.
New Otani spokesman Charles Ecker said that the hotel simply wants to uphold the rights of workers to hold a secret ballot election.
“The plain truth is that the New Otani workers in Los Angeles want to vote in a secret ballot election to decide, once and for all, the issue of unionization,” Ecker said in a statement.
The AFL-CIO and Local 11 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union is demanding that the New Otani and Kajima sign a neutrality agreement and allow the workers to vote on unionization through a “card check” procedure.
Under that process, workers who want to unionize would sign membership authorization cards. If more than 50 percent of the workers sign the cards, the union becomes entitled to represent the workers.
New Otani management, on the other hand, is calling for a traditional, secret ballot election to decide the union issue.