Unity & union-busting

Crossposted at
Celtic Diva’s
Blue Oasis

A lot more information and commentary has come out since Shannyn Moore pointed out a couple days ago that

This Friday, Mayor Dan Sullivan will cross the picket line at the ONLY boycotted hotel in Alaska for his “unity” dinner.  In May, the Hilton workers overwhelmingly voted to place their hotel under boycott because their employer degrades their quality of life. [Ref #1]

As Steve Aufrecht pointed out yesterday,

These employees are among the lowest paid workers. And they represent some of the non-white members of the Anchorage community. [Ref #2]

Before reading Shannyn’s post, I hadn’t known anything about the Hilton boycott. But a Google search when I was writing the article I posted early yesterday morning [Ref #3] gave additional information by way of an article by Brendan Joel Kelley published in the Anchorage Press in June:

The Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (HERE) Local 878, which represents some 200 Hilton employees, announced that it had overwhelmingly voted to place their hotel under boycott on April 20, when they had a rally outside of the hotel.

HERE says it’s been negotiating with Columbia Sussex, the Kentucky-based company that owns the Hilton, since last summer, to maintain their current contract. According to Senator Bill Wielechowski, who attended the rally, Columbia Sussex has offered the workers a 10 cent an hour wage increase, but wanted the employees to pick up a significant portion of their health insurance costs, which amounts to about two weeks of a year’s pay. “It’s really a step backwards,” Wielechowski says. “It’s going to affect the lives of a thousand Alaskan families here in Anchorage, so it’s a big deal. They’re asking them to do more work for less pay, essentially. It doesn’t benefit anyone here in Alaska for an Outside company to come in and do that.” [Ref #4]

Columbia Sussex became owner of the Anchorage Hilton in December 2006, and from every evidence things have gone downhill for the hotel’s workers ever since:

Traditionally, the three large hotels in town—the Captain Cook, the Sheraton and the Hilton—have set the industry standard when it comes to negotiating contracts with unions. The Captain Cook’s local owners, for example, signed what workers considered a fair contract with the union. But the purchase of the Hilton by Columbia Sussex has threatened that dynamic. [Ref #4]

More news came yesterday by way of a piece in Alaska Dispatch by Barb Angaiak, president of NEA-Alaska. The NEA in its name stands for National Education Association: NEA-Alaska is the state’s largest union, representing 13,000 teachers and education support professionals throughout the state.  Angaiak’s article announced NEA-Alaska’s decision to cancel all its business with the Anchorage Hilton — which it had previously been a favored venue for many NEA-Alaska events — due to Columbia Sussex’s steadfast refusal to deal in good faith in negotiating a fair contract with its employees.

The Alaska chapter of the National Education Association has been monitoring the lack of progress in contract negotiations between the Anchorage Hilton Hotel and its bellmen, housekeepers, food servers, and other employee groups for some months. These hardworking Alaskans, members of Unite HERE Local 878, have been attempting to bargain a new contract for more than a year, and hotel management shows no signs that it is willing to settle.

This is part of a national pattern of union-breaking tactics and unfair treatment of employees by the Columbia Sussex Corporation. As a result, the NEA-Alaska Board of Directors met last weekend and voted to cancel its multi-year contract with the Hilton. The board severed all business ties with the hotel, despite the financial cost to our 13,000 members.

NEA-Alaska met with the Hilton management in May and August, both times offering our services as mediators to help the two sides achieve a reasonable settlement. Alaska staff returned from attending the last face-to-face negotiating session stating it has become clear that these Outside hotel managers have no interest in settling the dispute with their Alaskan employees. [Ref #5; emphasis added]

As stated in its press release announcing the severance of its relationship with the Anchorage Hilton, NEA-Alaska explained:

The hotel’s owners, Columbia Sussex, continue to delay progress in the bargaining and instead unilaterally imposed new conditions of employment, including increased workloads with no additional pay and a demand that workers pay a larger share of health care costs. [Ref #6]

You can see other evidence of NEA-Alaska’s concern and efforts to assist Unite HERE Local 878 members in gaining a fair contract at NEA-Alaska’s website. [Refs #7–12] In an August 24 letter to the Anchorage Hilton’s general manager Eric Kiddle, which informed him of NEA’s cancellation of reservations for two large events the union had planned to hold at the hotel, Barb Angaiak wrote,

Our view of the Hilton has changed substantially over the last several months.   Hilton began negotiating a successor agreement between service employees and management over a year ago, without success or much progress.  In the process, the efforts of hardworking, dedicated and loyal employees of the hotel have been disregarded by new management, which appears focused on cost-cutting.  The apparent lack of interest in developing a contract that provides employees fair treatment, wages, benefits and working conditions suggests an agenda that is new to Anchorage and our state’s hotel industry.  We note that the major hoteliers in the city have reached agreement with HERE, and the terms do not impose the kinds of concessions Columbia Sussex seeks from employees.  The requested concessions are, to our knowledge, the only reason that an agreement has not been reached. [Ref #11]

NEA-Alaska is asking all its members not to use any services at the Anchorage Hilton until the hotel settles a fair contract. [Ref #5] It has also posted a list at its website of all properties owned nationwide by Columbia Sussex [Ref #12] — which includes also the Anchorage Marriot — and is urging all Alaskans to honor the boycott by avoiding all those properties when traveling or dining out. [Ref #5]

Meanwhile — the Mayor’s Unity Dinner is being held at the Hilton tonight.  As reported late last night by Kyle Hopkins at the Anchorage Daily News,

The union of roughly 1,000 Anchorage hotel and restaurant workers this month asked new Mayor Dan Sullivan to move the dinner to another venue.

Sullivan declined, and the union, which is seeking a better offer on wages and benefits from the hotel’s Kentucky-based owner, now plans to protest the event.

“The mayor is not honoring the wishes of the diverse workforce that works in this hotel,” said Amarjeet Chhabra, spokeswoman for Unite Here Local 878. The union represents about 200 Hilton workers, she said.

Sullivan spokeswoman Sarah Erkmann said it would have been impossible to move the dinner on just days’ notice. The city had booked the Hilton because other hotels like the Sheraton and Captain Cook weren’t available, she said. [Ref #12]

But… I’ve got to wonder.  Was the Mayor’s office truly not aware of a serious labor issue that had been going on for more than a year, such that it wasn’t until early this month that they put any thought to it, and only after the hotel workers asked?  Other organizations which have pulled out from holding events at the Anchorage Hilton include the Alaska Federation of Filipino Americans — many of the Hilton’s workers are of Filipino descent — the NAACP, and the Alaska Nurses Association. [Ref #12] Did none of the people planning for the event, which regardless of its name change is still part of Mayor’s Diversity Month, take account of how the Hilton was screwing over its workers — workers who are as much at the heart of Anchorage’s diversity as any of the rest of us?

And golly gee whiz — is it mere coincidence that another event was held at the Anchorage Hilton starting at noon today was an Alaska Republican Party fundraiser featuring the same keynote speaker, Lynn Swann, who is also keynoting the Mayor’s event? Lynn Swann, the former Hall of Fame football player and former Republican candidate for governor in Pennsylvania, who, according to Erkmann, waived his speaking fee for the Mayor’s dinner — the Alaska Republican Party is paying for his visit.

Huh.  Interesting.  Looks a lot to me an awful lot as if arrangements for the Mayor’s Unity Dinner simply piggybacked off the arrangements for the Alaska Republican fundraiser.

The whole situation also makes me very curious to know what relationships might exist between Mayor Sullivan, the Alaska Republican Party, and the management and shareholders of Columbia Sussex.  After all, it wouldn’t be the first time that union-busting could be seen as a shared Republican value. Especially evident now with the union-busting efforts being aimed at the city’s police, fire, and electrical unions even as we speak.

As Shannyn Moore wrote two days ago,

Hmmm…unity? What is unifying about a former Pittsburgh Steeler and Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate, with a $40,000 speaker fee? Oh, you meant partisan…easy mistake. It makes more sense that you’re holding it at a union-busting hotel now.  Something about all those “diverse” looking hotel workers not being paid a living wage must really “unify” your party. [Ref #1]

This post might be updated later with photos of the union pickets outside the Hilton, which I hope to stop by on my way to the True Diversity Dinner.

Update 9/26/09, 3:40 AM: Here’s photos I took of the picketing before I went to the True Diversity Dinner. I also talked with Dave, one of the workers who was picketing. I’ll be writing more about this issue. But right now, I think I’ll go to bed.


  1. 9/23/09. “Is Dan Sullivan Running For Senate?” by Shannyn Moore (Just a Girl from Homer; crossposted at The Mudflats and Alaska Report).
  2. 9/24/09. “Sullivan’s Unity Speaker Swan Paid Enough for One Muni Job” by Steve Aufrecht (What Do I Know?)
  3. 9/24/09. “True Diversity v. fake unity” by Melissa S. Green (Henkimaa).
  4. 6/17/09. “Housekeeping – The Hilton’s union employees institute a boycott” by Brendan Joel Kelley (Anchorage Press).
  5. 9/24/09. “NEA-Alaska cancels Hilton contract” by Barb Angaiak (Alaska Dispatch).
  6. 9/25/09. “State’s Largest Union Stands Behind Hilton Worker: 13,000-member NEA-Alaska Axes Contract with Hilton” (press release). NEA-Alaska.
  7. May 2009. Bringing pressure to bear on behalf of Hilton Hotel workers” by Barb Angaiak (NEA-Alaska).
  8. May 2009. “A Message from the President: Bringing pressure to bear on behalf of Hilton Hotel workers” by Barb Angaiak, NEA-AKtivist 36(9): 2.
  9. 7/28/09. “Local 878 Update” by Jessica Lawson of UNITE HERE Local 878 (NEA-Alaska).
  10. 8/24/09. “Alaska Educators Agree to Stand with Anchorage Hotel Workers.” Press release from NEA-Alaska.
  11. 8/24/09. Letter from Barb Angaiak, President of NEA-Alaska, to Eric Kiddle, General Manager, Anchorage Hilton Hotel.
  12. 9/25/09. “Columbia Sussex Hotel Properties.” NEA-Alaska. A full list of properties owned by Kentucky-based  Columbia Sussex.  Anchorage properties include the Anchorage Hilton Hotel and the Anchorage Marriot.
  13. 8/24/09. “Unions, others mount protest of mayor’s ‘unity’ dinner — HILTON: Hotel workers locked in labor dispute have asked for boycott” by Kyle Hopkins (Anchorage Daily News).
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