- The Washington Times - Friday, March 6, 2009

UPDATED:

To hash over the worst economic crisis in decades, top union leaders from across the country are meeting this week in Miami Beach, Fla., at the Fontainebleau Resort, which dubs itself “the epicenter of style, fame and glamour.”

It’s an upscale hotel that not long ago hosted the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. And it charges hundreds of dollars a night per room, though the union says it got a deal and isn’t paying more than $200.

At first glance, the 22-acre oceanfront hotel and the 40,000-square-foot spa seem a little out of touch with what’s going on in places like Peoria, Ill., where construction equipment maker Caterpillar just announced 20,000 job cuts worldwide.

But AFL-CIO leaders say they had a good reason for picking the Fontainebleau: union jobs.

Stewart Acuff, special assistant to AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney, said the deal to stay at the Fontainebleau was brokered three years ago amid talks for the hotel to hire union workers for a $1 billion expansion and renovation. And, he said, the hotel’s current employees are unionized, too.

“That negotiation led to 4 million workdays for well-paid union construction workers,” Mr. Acuff said. “It’s staffed by union members. Since they kept their part of the deal, we’re keeping our part of the deal. We only stay at union hotels.”

He said members of the AFL-CIO’s executive council have lined up no special sightseeing tours or big nights on the town.

“We’ve had a good week of hard work,” he said, which included hearing from Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Thursday.

Still, questions about the beachfront hotel might not have been entirely unexpected.

Early during Mr. Sweeney’s tenure as the head of the AFL-CIO in 1996, newspaper stories praised his move of midwinter talks from the Florida coast to Los Angeles, in what the union officials at the time called an effort to reach out to organizers and immigrants.

Even as far back as 1910, public relations concerns loomed over where union leaders should gather.

Samuel Gompers, president of the American Federation of Labor, urged union leaders not to meet in Atlantic City, N.J., which he said most people thought of as “a recreation place for the wealthy,” according to “The Samuel Gompers Papers” published by the University of Illinois Press.

Meeting in Atlantic City, he warned nearly a century ago, would be “heralded the country over by every fault finder and croaker and much would be made of it.”

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