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Working In These Times

Thursday, Oct 8, 2009, 1:58 pm

Housekeepers Rally for New Contract in Hard-Hit Sacramento

BY Seth Sandronsky

Zeida Rangel, a housekeeper at the Radisson Hotel Sacramento, located in California's capital city.   (Photo by Aamir Deen)

Xochitl Pelayo and Zeida Rangel are housekeepers at the Radisson Hotel Sacramento. Both earn $9.45 an hour, with a 30-cent bonus for each room they clean, thanks to a union pact with Unite Here Local 49, part of the AFL-CIO.

Radisson proposed eliminating this payment arrangement during negotiations for a new contract, which have been ongoing since June—meaning housekeepers would clean more than 14 rooms a day and lose their 30-cent per-room bonus, according to Pelayo and Rangel. Together, the two women have worked nine years for the company.
 
Further, the Radisson seeks to reduce its contribution to the health and pension plans of its 110 unionized employees (housekeepers, cooks, dishwashers, servers, front-desk clerks and bell persons) out of a work force of150, said Marco Hernandez, a Local 49 member who works at the Sheraton Grand Sacramento.

Wednesday, October 7, Hernandez, Pelayo and Rangel joined 50 people picketing outside the Radisson to inform its guests and the general public that  the hotel's employees deserve better.

“We understand that the economy is difficult now, but it is not right that the company is trying to take our money,” said Pelayo, a mother of two kids.
 
“The 30 cents per room cleaned we get now helps us to pay a bill,” said Rangel, a mother of one child.
 
The Radisson is offering the union workers, on average, pay raises of 25 cents per year during the next four years, said Tino Barajas of Local 49.
 
Rallying with Local 49 were members of the Sacramento Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, California Peace and Freedom Party and Coalition of Labor Union Women. Other groups backing the union are the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento, American Postal Workers Union and California State Employees Association.
 
“This is the first public action in Radisson Hotel Sacramento history,” said Chris Rak, a Local 49 organizer. He noted the slowness of current contract talks as the reason for the union’s strategy.
 
Lisa Wilson is the general manager of the Sacramento Radisson Hotel. She disputes Local 49’s version of bargaining to-date, but declined to discuss specifics.
 
“We can’t meet everything that the union has spoken for; I wish we could,” Wilson said. “I have to do what is fair and right for the employees but have to make sure that we are here for the long run.” 
 
The current recession, according to the Atlas Hospitality Group, is hammering the hospitality industry in the Sacramento region, where 10 hotels are in the default or foreclosure process. The Sacramento Radisson Hotel is not one of them, Wilson said, while noting that business is “down substantially” there.

Driving down business in California’s capital and nationwide is the sharp drop-off in consumer buying. That outcome is in big part a result of worsening unemployment. According to economist Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute, September marked the 21st consecutive month of job loss, the longest streak of employment destruction—7.2 million jobs—in seven decades.

Back in Sacramento, contract negotiations between Local 49 and the company are scheduled to resume October 15.
 
“I can’t see talks going another meeting or two,” Wilson said.
 
“We have had several negotiating sessions with the Radisson and made some progress, but there is still a lot to fight for,” Barajas said.

The Radisson workers are not the only hotel workers fighting for a new contract to their liking. Last month, workers in Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and other cities staged rallies and committed acts of civil disobedience to draw attention to stalled contract talks and sudden lay-offs at Hyatt and other hotels.

Seth Sandronsky is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Race and Class, Review of Radical Political Economics, Sacramento News & Review and Z Magazine, among other publications. He lives and writes in Sacramento, Calif., and can be reached at ssandronsky@yahoo.com.

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