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Maid in San Francisco 

Secretly, don't you hope the hospitality multinationals crush those loud, annoying, striking hotel workers? Find out. Take the quiz.

Wednesday, Oct 20 2004
For the past several weeks, more than 4,000 workers in the Unite Here Local 2 union have been on strike or locked out from 14 of San Francisco's swankiest hotels, including the InterContinental Mark Hopkins, the Fairmont, and the Four Seasons. Negotiations over a new contract between the hotels and their workers have stalled over health-care coverage. With overhead costs rising for hotels still mired in a three-year slump, management has proposed gradually raising the monthly premium for employees from its current level of $10 to about $275 in five years. The dispute is also about the timing and length of contracts: The unions want regional contracts to expire at the same time in cities across the country, improving their collective-bargaining leverage in the face of increased globalization. Hotel owners want regional contracts to expire independently, and prefer less flexible, long-term deals. Are you an apologist for the San Francisco hotel industry? Take our quiz and find out!

1) Guests and hotel management have criticized the union for its aggressive pickets, which feature round-the-clock use of bullhorns, loud drums, and shouted slogans. In addition, labor leaders have called potential guests of hotels and urged them to stay away during the strike. What do you think of the union's actions, and are they having a negative impact on the city?

A) I'm fine with the picket lines. But can we get some of these goddamn out-of-towners off the streets? Or at least teach them to walk single file?

B) The union's actions definitely create a bad impression for tourists. They shouldn't have to see the harsh, sad reality of San Francisco's intractable class, income, and employment problems until they move here.

C) It's wreaking havoc on the economy -- tourists are staying away, conventions are being canceled. It's like Sept. 11 all over again!

2) Tourists have complained about the quality of service they've received at strike-affected hotels, which have hired replacement workers to clean rooms while the regular employees are picketing outside. Do you think guests have a right to complain?

A) No. Every vacation can't be all leisure, all the time.

B) Sure, but it just proves the old adage: You can teach a scab to fluff the pillow, but you can't make him leave a mint.

C) And another thing: How can they charge $4 for a minibar Coke? I mean, unless the can is made out of gold?

3) According to Local 2, the average worker in a unionized, nontipped hotel job in San Francisco makes $26,000 a year. If the hotels get their way, that employee would begin paying $32.53 a month for health coverage. Management cites rising costs, but several of the chains that operate hotels involved in the dispute -- including Hilton Hotels; Marriott Corp.; and Starwood Hotels and Resorts, which runs the W, the Palace, and the Westin St. Francis -- reported improved profits for 2003 and similar returns so far this year. Given the complexities of the issue, who do you think should shoulder the burden of ever-escalating health-coverage costs?

A) Halliburton.

B) You know, this sounds like a topic best reserved for our two candidates for president of the United States -- I'm sure both of them have a pragmatic, affordable, and achievable plan to cover all Americans. And, yes, I'm drunk.

C) Hey, it's not the company that gets sick. It's the employee.

4) More than a dozen motorists were ticketed last week in front of the Palace Hotel and cited $50 for honking their horns in response to picket signs, and police have been issuing warnings to beeping drivers throughout downtown. What's your opinion of the crackdown on horn-blowing?

A) I can't tell you how reassured I am that our brave boys in blue are targeting the real crime in this city, rather than those pesky, violent, unsolved shootings in the Bayview, and Hunters Point, and the Lower Haight, and the Western Addition, and the Mission, and ....

B) I'm sorry, I work downtown. I couldn't hear your question.

C) Look, it's high time the cops did something about this. I mean, you can't have people making loud noise in the downtown area of a metropolis -- this is America, for God's sake.

5) Which of the following quotations do you think best exemplifies the genuine human hardship brought on by the dispute?

A) Jesse Jackson, who led a rhythmic chant in front of thousands of striking workers in Union Square: "Save the workers. Save the family. Health care is a right. We will fight one day longer. We will not surrender." (Bonus point if you guessed "Jesse Jackson" and "rhythmic chant" without actually knowing he'd been in San Francisco.)

B) David Weinberg, federal mediation and conciliation service commissioner: "This is a difficult situation with difficult issues."

C) Joan Ryan, San Francisco Chronicle columnist: "A lockout or strike is like the film 'Rashomon.' The single event plays out in a hundred separate stories, each seen through a hundred individual lenses."

6) Mayor Gavin Newsom has refused to take sides in the dispute, saying he recognizes the need both for unions to band together and for hotels to make money in difficult economic times. Other than mediating and setting up a few fruitless negotiating sessions, he has remained on the sidelines. Do you think he should take a more active role?

A) Let's be fair: The mayor's in an impossible position. Willie Brown played these labor disputes for all they were worth, dashing in and out of midnight meetings just in time for the news vans to arrive, hurling unhelpful comments at both sides, and inevitably brokering some shady, last-minute deal that left everyone feeling exhausted. Newsom can't hold a candle to that level of grandstanding.

B) Absolutely he should take a greater role. Doesn't he understand that these are the hardworking men and women who bring him his room service?

C) You must be kidding. Newsom is a crime-fighting Supermayor who personally works homicide investigations -- he's got more important things to worry about than a few hotels.

7) What lasting impact do you think the labor dispute will have?

A) Plenty. Until we go through this again in two years.

B) Regardless of whether the unions or the hotels ultimately claim victory, I just hope the focus returns to the people who truly deserve it: wealthy, middle-aged white folks from Ohio who can't wait to see Chinatown.

C) I pray it doesn't turn out like my last hotel lockout. You don't know true humiliation until you march down to the front desk in your birthday suit and try to explain how you lost your key in the ice machine.

How to score:

Score zero points for every "A" answer, one point for every "B," and two points for every "C."

0-6 points: Welcome to the picket line. Here's the annoying but catchy slogan you'll be shouting for the next 17 straight hours.

7-10 points: Don't blame me, I'm voting for Nader.

11-14 points: Congratulations, this puts you right in line with San Francisco's storied, centuries-old, anti-union tradition. Your room is ready now.

About The Author

Matt Palmquist


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