A show of strength against Holiday Inn

August 10, 2009

CONCORD, Calif.--Activists gave the Holiday Inn a black eye on July 31 as 150 people gathered for a solidarity rally organized by UNITE HERE Local 2850.

The spirited action was meant to encompass a sidewalk rally and civil disobedience, but ended up storming the hotel courtyard and completely shutting down the main entrance for hours.

Holiday Inn provoked this fight, allowing hotel workers' contract to expire in May 2008. In February, workers voted by an overwhelming margin against the hotel's last contract proposal. The union initiated a boycott campaign to pressure the hotel into offering a fair contract.

Most recently, the hotel threatened to unilaterally impose an 1,800 percent increase in the cost to health care for the workers' families on August 1. Hotel employees currently pay $40 a month for insurance for a family. The hotel plans to raise that amount to $743.69, while raising by half the minimum monthly hours to qualify for care.

At the solidarity rally, some of the workers' children formed a "Kids' Brigade" that marched to the hotel lobby and taped signs on the glass informing guests that they were going to lose their health coverage because of the hotel's owner.

Local politicians, clergy and labor leaders spoke throughout the rally, which also marched back and forth across hotel property echoing the slogan "Don't check in, check out!" off of the walls.

In the end, the hotel failed to call out the police, even to remove the hours-long sit-down blockade in the main driveway. While this may have been a strategy to avoid bad publicity, it certainly must have made the hotel look weak to all of the on-duty workers who watched from the front desk or while cleaning rooms.

It is no accident that Holiday Inn's attack on workers comes in the middle of the longest recession since the Second World War, which has stung California particularly hard. As workers from General Motors to state agencies accept concessions and layoffs, these hotel workers are showing they're willing to fight back. The U.S. labor movement could learn a lesson from the confrontational approach on display in Concord.

This confrontation also points to the need for a genuine national health care plan to ensure all working families receive adequate medical coverage without having to fight for it on a case-by-case basis.

The Holiday Inn may be looking to win a war of attrition against its workers and their union. But UNITE HERE has already demonstrated that it can organize the type of actions that could easily shut down the hotel. And the confidence of workers in the hotel to conduct their own actions--from "work to rule" actions to walking off the job--will only be heightened by this impressive solidarity rally.

Less than half of hotels in Concord are unionized. By resisting the demands of management and staking out the workers' interest, the members of UNITE HERE 2850 have made a good case for their unorganized brothers and sisters to join them.

As the mass of picket signs read at the rally, "Boycott Holiday Inn Concord!"

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