Union brings end to lockout with negative comms push

SAN FRANCISCO: A union representing hotel workers on strike brought an end to the impasse this month by helping generate negative publicity about San Francisco's tourism industry.

SAN FRANCISCO: A union representing hotel workers on strike brought an end to the impasse this month by helping generate negative publicity about San Francisco's tourism industry.

Unite Here Local 2's strategy had been to create media events where reporters could talk to the workers themselves, said Valerie Lapin, media relations representative for Local 2 (see PRWeek, November 8). That meant vocal and visible picket lines at 14 hotels, which generated negative press locally and nationally. Hotels were losing business, as were nearby shops.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that luncheons at several hotels were canceled because guests would not cross the picket lines. And the American Anthropological Association moved its recent meeting from San Francisco to Atlanta.

"We wanted people to hear from employees who couldn't go back to work and [about] issues they were facing," said Lapin.

The strike was brought to an end with a 60-day cooling-off period on November 21. Mayor Gavin Newsom (D) told The New York Times that the negative publicity from the strike was a major factor in allowing employees to return to work.

"As the situation dragged on, it caused publicity for all sides involved," said Barbara French, CEO and president of Reputation, which is handling media relations for the 14 affected hotels.

At the heart of the issue are contract talks between the hotels and Unite Here Local 2, which represents 8,000 hotel workers, including 4,300 workers who were locked out from their jobs. Workers have been picketing the hotels for several weeks.

Talks began in July, but stalled in September. Union members initiated a two-week strike against the hotels, which responded with a lockout.

Employees went back to work two days before Thanksgiving and, perhaps most important, in time for the big holiday shopping season. Some of San Francisco's busiest shopping areas are near hotels that locked out staffers.

"The hotels knew what the union's tactics would be," said French. "And the hotels felt that the dynamic had changed, that the unions were ready to negotiate, and that the hotels would not be hit with intermittent strikes."

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