Quick Hit Ashlee Rezin Wednesday April 24th, 2013, 4:46pm

Unite Here, Hilton Reach Contract Agreement Without A Lengthy Battle

Four months before their existing contracts were set to expire, more than 600 Hilton Hotel workers represented by Unite Here Local 1 and Local 450 have reached a five-year contract settlement with the hotel chain.

Workers’ from the Drake, Palmer House Hilton, Chicago Hilton, and Hilton O’Hare voted Saturday to ratify the agreement with the Virginia-based hotel chain, well before the August 31 contract expiration date. 

“This is really significant in that this has all been done before the expiration of the current contract,” said Carly Karmel, spokesperson for Unite Here. 

With contracts for more than 6,000 Chicago Unite Here hotel workers set to expire this year, Hilton is the first major hotel to reach a labor agreement with union workers. A tentative agreement has also been reached with the New York-based Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc.

“This is a huge change from what happened during the last round of hotel negotiations and we see it as a product of the work we’ve put in with the industry,” Karmel said.

In 2009, the last round of Unite Here’s citywide negotiations with the hotel industry, Hilton workers went without a contract for two years.

"(The contract) ensures labor peace to 2018 and is good for our hotels, our team members and the City of Chicago," Paul Ades, senior vice president of labor relations for Hilton Worldwide, told the Chicago Tribune.

Under the new Hilton contract, wages and benefits are put into a pool and the union will vote on how funds will be allocated, according to Karmel.

The contract calls for an increase of $4.81 in wages and benefits over five years. 

Housekeepers, according to Karmel, are currently paid $16.40 an hour.

Meanwhile, workers from the Chicago-based Hyatt Hotels Corp. have been without a contract since 2009 and negotiations are at a standstill.

This was an opportunity for Hilton to establish itself as a leader in the field, and may increase pressure on Hyatt negotiations, according to Bob Bruno, professor of labor and employment at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“This is a statement that large corporations and their unions can use the collective bargaining process in a very rational way to achieve an agreement that works in the best interest of all parties,” he said.

Bruno called the early contract settlement a “breakthrough.”

“This leaves Hyatt as an outlier,” he said. “It shifts the focus onto them and asks ‘what’s wrong with the Hyatt relationship and why is it different?’”

“I think it’ll definitely add pressure on that bargaining process to address what’s not working,” he said.

Karmel said union negotiations with Hyatt Hotels have stalemated as a result of two main sticking points the union is pushing: contracting language that would protect workers from having their job subcontracted to nonunion members and workplace protections, specifically for housekeepers, to prevent injuries on the job. 

Nonunion housekeepers often clean as many as 30 rooms a day, she added.

“If another hotel chain has a bad image because they can’t get a settlement with their employees, they’ll be at a competitive disadvantage with Hilton,” said Dyanne Ferk, associate dean from the College of Business and Management at the University of Illinois at Springfield.

Ferk said because Chicago’s economy relies so heavily on tourism and the hotel industry, the deal between Hilton and Unite Here shows a “great deal of maturity” and “recognition of the need to get this done.”

“These are tough economic times and getting both sides to look to the future can often be difficult,” she said.

One worker said it was “refreshing” to see an agreement be reached without a lengthy battle.

“Hyatt workers have been without a contract for four years,” Flavio Gonzalez, a server at the Chicago Hilton, said in a statement. “Now, in Hyatt’s hometown, Hilton has settled before our contract even expired.”

“Hyatt has a lot to learn from Hilton.”

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