One-hundred-fifty Sheraton Anchorage workers are in a grueling but inspirational struggle with their hotel management and ownership companies, respectively Remington Hospitality and Ashford TRS Nickel. At one level, the battle is over the financial well being of Sheraton workers and their families who are determined to ensure that they continue to enjoy the benefits and protections of a strong union contract as they have for years. At another level, the battle is over the very future of the hospitality industry in Anchorage, as Sheraton workers and their Union strive to uphold standards of employment in the hospitality industry that they have fought for years to build up.
History of the Sheraton Labor Dispute
Negotiations and breakdown of talks
In 2009, Sheraton Anchorage workers, represented by UNITE HERE Local 878, started negotiating with their employer to secure a new union contract. The objective of the workers in negotiations was simple: to maintain the existing working conditions and benefits that they enjoyed under their expired labor agreement. But management had a different bargaining objective: it demanded that workers make concessions on rights and benefits that workers have enjoyed for many years. As the two sides began to discuss the issues, on October 17, 2010, management unexpectedly declared an impasse in bargaining (they refused to continue negotiating) and implemented some of their nastiest proposals.
The Workers Boycott
On November 17, 2009, in response to management’s unilateral implementation, Sheraton workers overwhelmingly voted in favor to launch a campaign that encourage the public to boycott their hotel. They started reaching out to potential guests and asked them not to eat, sleep, or meet at the Sheraton until a fair contract is reached. Despite the difficult economic times, workers courageously decided to take a short-term financial loss in order to maintain sustainable job standards in the long term. And the public has responded. According to court documents filed by Sheraton, the Sheraton had lost revenue of $638,372.00 owing to cancellations by 13 different organizations of 16 separate events as of February 10, 2011. To Support the Boycotts, click here!
As part of their effort to enforce the boycott, workers and their supporters began conducting frequent demonstrations outside the hotel, these demonstrations continue today.
The Sheraton Discharges Four Union Supporters
In early February, four pro-union workers passed out informational union leaflets about the boycott at the front doors of the hotel (federally protected union activity). Days later the workers were suspended and two weeks later they were fired. Fortunately, because of charges filed against the Sheraton with the National Labor Relations Board, Sheraton management brought the four workers back to work.
The Sheraton stops recognizing the workers’ union — the legal fight
On August 25, 2011, Administrative Law Judge Gregory Z. Meyerson issued a long-awaited verdict on the sixteen separate allegations of unlawful behavior which had been lodged against Remington Lodging & Hospitality LLC, the operator of the Sheraton Anchorage hotel, by the National Labor Relations Board (the Board), the federal agency authorized to enforce the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which is the law that governs labor relations for most private sector employers. This ruling brings Sheraton workers one step closer to justice.
Basing his conclusions on the evidence that was presented before him during 40 days of hearing, Judge Meyerson’s ruling is a searing indictment of the Sheraton Anchorage’s reign of terror and abuse directed against its workers and their union, UNITE HERE Local 878.
The Board first brought most of these charges against the Sheraton Anchorage almost eighteen months ago, on May 28, 2010, and added more on August 17, 2010. Now, at long last, Judge Meyerson has concluded that the Sheraton Anchorage violated federal labor law in numerous ways.
By way of remedy, Judge Meyerson ordered the hotel to undo all of its unlawful acts, including (among other things) eliminating all of the unlawful provisions of its employee handbook; reinstating the rule that workers need only clean 15 rooms per shift; reinstituting the earlier, union-sponsored medical insurance plan; repaying workers for any out-of-pocket expenses they incurred that would have been covered by the prior plan; making workers whole for any uncompensated 30-minute meal breaks and any fees they paid for cafeteria food; and expunging all records of unlawful discipline imposed on workers while making those workers whole for any economic damage they suffered as a result of that discipline, plus interest.
Most importantly, Judge Meyerson ordered the hotel to recognize that its workers have the right to make complaints about their wages and working conditions, the right to wear union buttons, the right to petition their General Manager for relief, and the right to handbill the public for support – all rights that the hotel had inexcusably and unlawfully previously denied to them. To make sure that workers understand that they really do have these rights, Judge Meyerson took the unusual step of also ordering that a densely-written 5-page notice setting forth their legal rights under the NLRA be publicly read aloud, in both English and in Spanish, to the assembled employees of the hotel by a high-level corporate executive in the present of an agent of the Board — or by a Board agent in the present of a high-level corporate executive.
Finally, the judge ordered the hotel to acknowledge that Local 878 still represents the hotel’s hourly employees, as it did before the hotel commenced its illegal activities, and to recommence bargaining with the union, this time in good faith with the intention of reaching an agreement.
The scope and importance of this decision cannot easily be overemphasized. During the time period since the Sheraton Anchorage embarked on its campaign to rid itself of the union that represents its workers, it has suffered one significant legal defeat after another. First, starting in May of 2010, the Board found merit in countless unfair labor practice charges that had been leveled against the hotel by the union. Six months later, in November of 2010, a United States District Judge in Anchorage dismissed the hotel’s lawsuit against the Board, which it had brought less than six weeks earlier in a futile effort to try to stop the Board from enforcing the NLRA. On August 4 of this year, just a few weeks before Judge Meyerson’s ruling, yet another federal judge in Anchorage dismissed with prejudice a lawsuit for defamation and tortious interference that the hotel had filed against Local 878.
Federal Injunction and Current Status
On February 3, 2012 a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction against Remington Hospitality, the Texas based operator of the Sheraton hotel in Anchorage. This injunction comes over five months after a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Administrative Law Judge concluded that the hotel violated numerous federal labor laws in its effort to end recognition of its workers’ union, UNITE HERE Local 878.
The injunction will require the Sheraton to take numerous steps to remedy past unlawful conduct against its employees. Furthermore, it will require the hotel to restore the terms and conditions of employment as they existed prior to the hotel’s unlawful declaration of impasse in past union negotiations. These terms and conditions include (but are not limited to) a reduction of workloads in the Housekeeping department, restoration of the employer-paid union medical insurance plan, recognition of the workers union and resumption of union negotiations.
Even though this injunction is considered by many Sheraton workers to be a major victory, their struggle is not over yet. The Union still has over 20 charges of illegal conduct against the Sheraton pending with the National Labor Relations Board and workers are still without a union contract. Until these issues are completely resolved, workers continue to ask the public to boycott the hotel.