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Hilton workers in Seattle take to streets for job security

UPDATE — Check out this video news coverage of the Labor Day action!

SEATTLE — One hundred Hilton workers, labor activists and supporters gathered on Labor Day to stand up — and sit down and get arrested — for job security at Seattle’s Hilton Hotel. The demonstration was organized in response to the R.C. Hedreen Co.’s decision to put the Seattle Hilton up for sale without securing job protections, jeopardizing more than 100 hotel jobs currently under union contract.


Ten supporters, including two workers at other Seattle area hotels, UNITE HERE Local 8 Secretary-Treasurer Erik Van Rossum and Washington State Labor Council President Jeff Johnson, were arrested as they blocked the streets to send a message about the importance of job security in the hospitality industry.

“We could be fired any day when the hotel is sold, and replaced with minimum-wage workers,” said Chuck Cruise, a second-generation bellman at the Seattle Hilton with more than 20 years experience. “They have the power to save our jobs as a condition of sale, all we’re asking is that they use that power to take care of their workers. We’ve given them years of loyal service.”

WSLC President Jeff Johnson is arrested by Seattle Police on Labor Day.

“It is an honor to stand beside hotel workers fighting to protect their jobs and maintain their living standards,” Johnson said. “That’s what Labor Day is all about. This state’s labor movement will continue to stand beside Hilton workers — and other Seattle-area hotel workers — until they get basic job security and fair contracts.”

Even in this tough economy, hotels continue to remain profitable through a combination of layoffs, decreased work schedules and increased workloads for staff, burdening a low-wage workforce. According to the industry’s own projections, hotels will be returning to record profits by 2012.

But, as Huffington Post recently reported, the hotel industry is squeezing more profits by squeezing their staff — increasingly by outsourcing in-house jobs to temp agencies that pay at or near minimum wage with no benefits.

The jobs don’t go offshore to India — they go to little-seen labor agencies that provide hotel chains like Hyatt and Marriott with large pools of bottom-rung workers, who are often Latino. As some hotels increasingly rely on these middlemen agencies, the economic effects for blue-collar workers are significant. Wages tend to be lower, and employees often end up working full-time without health insurance, vacation or sick days. Although they’re considered temps, they sometimes work at the same hotel for years on end.

Hospitality work, largely thanks to organized labor, was once a path to middle-class life in America. But downward wage pressures have left many workers in poverty, relying on government subsidies, local charities, and second and third jobs to get by.

Meanwhile, real estate investment companies are recognizing the renewed profitability of hotels, particularly in Seattle, which is among the top 25 hotel markets in the country with demand at pre-recession levels. Recently, the Seattle’s Red Lion sold for $71 million to Los Angeles-based Lowe Enterprises.

Hotel workers at the Hilton and at other hotels in the Seattle area will continue to call for a fair contract that protects their jobs and maintains their living standards. For more information, visit or see more photos of the Labor Day action here.

CHECK OUT THE UNION DIFFERENCE in Washington: higher wages, affordable health and dental care, job and retirement security.

FIND OUT HOW TO JOIN TOGETHER with your co-workers to negotiate for better wages, benefits, and a voice at work. Or go ahead and contact a union organizer today!