- The Washington Times - Friday, January 14, 2005

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The union representing workers at the top hotels in the District of Columbia reached a tentative labor deal with the hotels yesterday, averting a strike during next week’s presidential inauguration.

Details of the proposed three-year agreement between United Here Local 25 and the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Washington D.C. could not be released until union members voted on it. However, union spokeswoman Amanda Cooper said members were happy with the proposal.

“It’s a great contract,” she said. “The room exploded with cheers when it was announced.”

Union members will vote on the deal Tuesday. The bargaining committee is recommending that it be ratified, Ms. Cooper said.

Hotel association chief negotiator Peter Chatilovicz said the hotels were also pleased with the deal, which increases wages and benefits.

Workers had been on the job without a contract since Sept. 15, when the old deal expired, and the union had been threatening to strike if there were no deal by today. The deadline coincided with the expected arrival of tens of thousands of out-of-town guests for President Bush’s second inauguration Thursday.

Talks resumed yesterday with the two sides still far apart on wages and benefits. The union was seeking a 10 percent wage and benefit increase in each year of the contract, while the hotels were offering a little more than 4 percent. There was significant movement on both sides during yesterday’s session, Mr. Chatilovicz said.

“Both sides had a very productive session today, and I think it shows when the parties want to reach an agreement they can do so,” he said.

The two sides also agreed yesterday on non-economic issues, such as language to help ensure that employees get eight-hour work days. Progress was reported in earlier sessions on what the union calls “respect and dignity issues,” including having work rules and notices posted in the native languages of workers, many of whom do not speak English.

The union was not successful in obtaining a two-year agreement, which would have expired at the same time as the contracts of hotel workers in other cities.

The union represents about 3,200 bellmen, housekeepers and cooks at the Washington locations of top chains such as Hilton, Marriott and Omni.

The two sides were hoping to avoid an ugly strike like the one late last year in San Francisco. Workers at four hotels there walked out Sept. 29 and management responded by locking out workers at 10 other properties.

Though the strike ended Oct. 13, management kept 4,000 workers locked out until a new deal was reached Nov. 20.

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