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Watch out summer travellers. Ivan Osorio, editorial director at the right-wing Competitive Enterprise Institute warns that "It may be a stressful summer for travelers." Fuel prices? Terrorism? Global Warning?

Wrong. Wrong. And wrong. None of the above. The threat to America’s summer vacation: UNITE-HERE’s campagn to negotiate better contracts and organize new hotel workers across the country. The union has been intentionally aligning the expiration dates of its contracts in major cities so they renew this year.

Contracts for about 60,000 hotel workers represented by the international union Unite Here in several cities nationwide and in Toronto have expired or will expire shortly. A contract in Honolulu expired on July 1, and negotiations there have continued while a contract in Monterey, Calif., is set to expire on July 31. Agreements for both Boston and Los Angeles terminate on Nov. 30.

A pact in Chicago will end on Aug. 31. A union leader there said that hotel workers had been watching bargaining in New York City and felt that the negotiated agreement was a good one

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In San Francisco, where a contract for 9,000 hotel workers expired in August 2004, a union dispute including a strike, lockout and subsequent boycott may have cost hotels as much as $100 million over two years, said Mike Casey, president of Unite Here Local 2, which represents San Francisco workers

Workplace health and safety issues are a major organizing issue for hotel workers, particularly since the escalating "battle of the beds" as New York Times correspondent Steven Greenhouse described it:

Superthick mattresses, plush duvets and decorative bed skirts have been added, and five pillows rather than the pedestrian three now rest on a king-size bed. Hilton markets these rooms as Suite Dreams, while Westin boasts of its Heavenly Beds.

The beds may mean sweet dreams to hotel guests, but they mean pain to many of the nation’s 350,000 hotel housekeepers. Several new studies have found that thousands of housekeepers are suffering arm, shoulder and lower-back injuries.

"It’s gotten harder," said Dolores Reyes, a 55-year-old housekeeper responsible for 16 rooms a day at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Honolulu. "I’ve been trying to get my body used to it, but instead I’m feeling more pain. I’ve had to go to the doctor about my shoulders. That’s what’s killing me right now."

The problem, housekeepers say, is not just a heavier mattress, but having to rush because they are assigned the same number of rooms as before while being required to deal with far more per room: more pillows, more sheets, more amenities like bathrobes to hang up and coffeepots to wash.

Ms. Reyes complained that some days she must make 25 double beds, a task that entails taking off, and putting on, 100 pillowcases. And then there are vacuuming, dusting, washing mirrors, scrubbing bathroom tiles, cleaning hair dryers, and stocking shampoo and soap.

You can always tell that a union organizing campaign is striking a chord by the kind of opposition it’s generating.

In an American Spectator article, Osorio tries to explain to the uneducated what’s up with unions. I loved this paragraph so much that I annotated it:

For private sector unions,(1) survival depends on increasing membership(2), and to that end, UNITE-HERE and other aggressive unions left the AFL-CIO a year ago to form a new labor federation, the Change to Win Coalition. UNITE-HERE’s Change to Win confederates (3) – especially the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) — are also enthusiastic about corporate campaigns. While it is unlikely to rejuvenate the labor movement in the way that its supporters wish, the corporate campaigns of UNITE-HERE and Change to Win can still inflict heavy damage on employers and the economy.(4)

Notes:

1. Public sector unions also depend on increasing membership.
2. Is this a bad thing? "It’s like saying "For private sector companies, survival depends on increasing profits." duh!
3. Confederates(?) There are three major definitions of "confederate"
  • Confederate (a supporter of the Confederate States of America)
  • confederate, collaborator, henchman, partner in crime (someone who assists in a plot)
  • confederate (a person who joins with another in carrying out some plan (especially an unethical or illegal plan)

    I’m pretty sure they’re referring to bullets number two or three.

4. Right. That’s the labor movement for you. If you can’t beat ‘em, destroy ‘em. They probably hate freedom and democracy as well.

What particularly gets his goat is that UNITE-HERE is engaging in a "corporate campaign."  According to Osorio, 
A corporate campaign’s ultimate objective is to browbeat the employer into allowing a union to organize its workers through a procedure known as "card check neutrality" — which isn’t neutral at all.
For more information about how unions are turning toward card check campaigns to replace the broken NLRB election system, check out my previous post here.
Osorio is also not convinced that hotel workers actually have any safety or health problems, as he explains in a longer article:
The ultimate objective of a UNITEHERE corporate campaign … is less about improving plant hygiene or safeguard worker health than about forcing the employer to allow it to organize its workers according to a procedure known as "card check neutrality"— which isn’t neutral at all.
UNITE-HERE’s evidence says otherwise in a new study titled, " Creating Luxury, Enduring Pain"
Findings show that behind the luxury and comfort that housekeepers provide for hotel guests is a pattern of persistent pain and injury.
The report utilizes the first comprehensive analysis of employer records of worker injuries, including records of the major five hotel companies. The analysis covers seven years (1999-2005) and 87 hotel properties with approximately 40,000 hotel employees. The report finds that not only are housekeepers injured more frequently than other hotel and service workers, but this problem is only getting worse as hotel companies implement room changes including heavier beds and linens and room amenities like coffee makers and treadmills.

But it’s not just the new "heavenly beds" – the mountains of pillows, heavy bedspreads, duvet covers and gigantic mattresses — but also the issue of work organization: Despite the increased workload, hotel workers still expected to clean the same quota of rooms.

One of the contributing factors to pain and high injury rates is the standard way hotel management organizes housekeeping work. Based on a "room quota" system, housekeepers are required to clean a certain number of rooms each day. The greater the room quota, the faster she must work. If a hotel housekeeper has a 16-room quota, she must clean each room in less than 30 minutes to allow time to stock her cart and travel between floors. Housekeepers routinely report that they must race through their tasks in order to complete them on time. When rushing to clean a slippery tub or lift a heavy mattress, workers are more likely to get hurt.

Further, hotel housekeepers report that clean linen and towels are commonly understocked and well-functioning vacuums are few and far between, intensifing this time pressure. Any obstacles such as these supply shortages disrupt the pace of work and consume valuable minutes.

In recent years, the workload that hotel companies demand housekeepers perform has increased significantly. Chronic understaffing, coupled with the addition of time-consuming amenities—luxury items like heavy mattresses, fragile coffeepots and in-room exercise equipment—have placed housekeepers at greater risk of injury. In order to complete their room quotas, housekeepers are increasingly forced to skip meals and other breaks—rests necessary to prevent injury. Today, housekeepers’ bodies are at the breaking point.

The consequences for the health of these workers, mostly women of color and immigrants, is devastating:

Hotel workers are 48% more likely to be injured on the job than the typical worker in the service sector. Hotel workers also have higher rates of serious, disabling injuries—those that require days away from work or reassignment to light duty. These disabling injuries occur to hotel workers at a rate 51% higher than for service sector workers in general,

So who are you going to believe? Hotel owners or your lying back?

Meanwhile a recently settled contract with hundres of New York hotels won hotel workers a 4 percent pay increase each year of the first three years of the six-year contract, effective July 1, and 3.5 percent a year thereafter, in addition to improvements in the pension fund, health plan and an additional week of vacation for employees with 20 or more years. These are wage increases and benefits that most hotel workers in this country can only dream of — or organize for.  Business Week points out that, "nationally, nonunion hotel housekeepers earn an average of $8.67 an hour, vs. $13 for those in the union, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics."

Finally, if you happen to be organizing or attending a conference, and you don’t want to cross a picket line (you really don’t want to cross a picket line) you can check out the Hotel Labor Advisor for information about  hotels that are on strike, where contracts are expiring soon, and Tips on how to handle labor disputes at your destination hotel.

So, your summer doesn’t have to be stressful fun things to do with the kids like walk a real picket line at a striking hotel. What better education for the rugrats?

Jordan Barab blogs at Confined Space.