Blackstone: The Grinch Stealing Recovery from San Francisco Hotel Workers

Last week, over 650 hotel workers, clergy leaders and members from other unions like AFT, ILWU, and Teamsters marched in solidarity at the Hilton Union Square in downtown San Francisco. More than 16 months after union hotel contracts expired, the Blackstone Group, which owns the hotel, has yet to propose a contract that the hotel workers, who earn an average of $30,000 a year, can afford.

Blackstone projects their revenues have increases by 50%: from $1.8 billion in 2009 to $2.7 billion this year. The Wall Street Journal expects compensation for Blackstone executives to climb 12% this year [WSJ, 10/11/2010]. According to hospitality industry analyst Mark Woodworth:

Recently released updated forecasts from Colliers PKF Hospitality Research reveal that a base has been established for very strong gains in both revenue and profits in the years to come. Most importantly, expectations for attractive industry growth over the next three to four years remain firm.

Industry analysts and Blackstone itself expect very jolly holiday seasons for years to come. San Francisco hotel workers continue to demand an explanation as to why Blackstone is seeking to lay off workers, freeze pensions, shift the burden of rising health care costs onto hotel workers and lock working families into a permanent recession.

Ingrid Carp, a 30-year cook at the Hilton Union Square Hotel:

We are beyond angry. We’ve been to the negotiating table so many times and Blackstone keeps proposing concessions we simply cannot afford. Why should we give up basic necessities when they’re blowing my tax dollars and my retirement on multi-million dollar parties and raises for those Wall Street executives?

Recently, Blackstone reported to set aside, on average, $3.46 million for each corporate employee [FierceFinance, 11/9/2010]. Hilton Union Square’s workers, on the other hand, have proposed a contract that would only cost Blackstone $2.5 to $3 million each year to cover all 850 families. Management has refused to sign this proposal. Therefore, the worker-called boycott continues.

In addition to attempting to lock workers into a permanent recession, hotel management have also increased their efforts to intimidate union activists. Johan Tahir, a bartender at the Hilton Union Square for 22 years was recently fired due to allegations that “would never have resulted in a termination under ordinary circumstances,” said Local 2 Field Representative Lorraine Powell.

Since Johan is always willing to speak out for his fellow employees, we feel management unfairly singled him out.

Following a community delegation to management requesting that they provide Tahir a fair hearing, community leaders such as Jobs with Justice, Progressive Jewish Alliance and other clergy increased the urgency for management to act. The group numbering about 20, began singing holiday carols in the Hilton hotel restaurant, Urban Tavern, with lyrics adapted to the current struggle for a fair contract and to urge Hilton management to rehire Tahir. Community and clergy leaders ended with prayers hoping that management find compassion and a sense of justice in their hearts.