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S.F. hotel workers return to work after lockout

/ Source: The Associated Press

Unionized hotel workers in San Francisco agreed Saturday to return to work following an eight-week lockout, dealing a major boost to the city’s tourism industry on the eve of the busy holiday season.

About 4,000 maids, bellhops, cooks and other hourly wage earners will return to their jobs Tuesday while contract negotiations continue, Mayor Gavin Newsom announced.

Newsom said the group representing 14 luxury hotels agreed to end the lockout of union workers for two months. Negotiations were to resume after Thanksgiving.

“I think they came to recognize the damage this would have long-term if it had continued through the holidays,” he said.

The workers went on strike at four hotels on Sept. 29 and were locked out at 10 others two days later. They agreed to end their strike last month, but the hotels declared the lockout would continue until a new contract was reached.

Newsom said negative publicity from the strike and the union’s ability to extend health care coverage while workers remained locked out were key factors in the hotel operators’ change of heart.

“They did the right thing,” said the mayor, who was joined by representatives of the hotels and about 50 beaming union workers during a news conference at City Hall. “I recognize it was a difficult decision to them.”

But despite the progress Saturday, much work remains to be done to secure a contract agreement, said Mike Casey, president of the hotel workers union.

“We need to stay focused on the issue at hand, which is to win a contract that continues to uphold the union standard in San Francisco,” he said.

The union and the hotels have been at odds over wage increases and the length of the contract that will replace one that expired in August.

A marathon bargaining session on Friday helped convince the hotel operators that the two sides were drawing closer, said Matthew Adams, vice president of the San Francisco Multi-Employer Group.

“The dynamic and environment is there to reach an agreement,” he said. “We weren’t so confident in that 30 days ago.”

The hotel operators agreed to continue paying their share of the workers’ health insurance premiums through December. Those payments were scheduled to end Dec. 1. They also agreed to drop an appeal filed after the state ruled that the locked-out workers were entitled to unemployment insurance.

Most of the union employees earn $9 to $15 an hour, with cooks making up to $20 an hour.