W Hotel workers choose to stand together and become Teamsters

(L-R) Florina Rebusi, Andy Ma Ta Fong, Cesar Landeros, Priya Kumari and their coworkers at the W Hotel are the newest members of Local 856.

Reservations, front desk, concierge, and rooms control employees at the W San Francisco hotel have joined the more than 1,000 hospitality workers already represented by Teamsters 856 after a resounding yes vote last month.

For Priya Kumari, the choice to form a union with Teamsters 856 was an easy one. After years of talking with members of Teamsters 665 and UNITE HERE Local 2 working in other departments at the W, she realized what a difference a strong collective bargaining agreement could make.

“I wanted there to be policies and procedures that management has to abide by,” said Priya, who’s been a front desk agent at the W for seven years.

Things began to move quickly after W employees met with Teamsters 856 President Mike Lagomarsino, Representative Liliana Cortez, and Member Organizer Kathleen Romero to learn more about the benefits of forming a union.

“I think the time was right,” said Liliana. “With the changes going on at the hotel, workers wanted protections and they were ready to have a seat and a voice at the table.”

In early February, a majority of the 17 workers personally reached out to hotel management and asked for voluntary recognition of their choice to form a union, but were met with silence.

Cesar Landeros, a rooms controller at the hotel, was part of the group who approached the boss. “When the hotel decided not to recognize the union, I felt it was unfair,” he said. “We work hard and keep their ratings up.”

Despite their disappointment, the workers persisted.

“I felt like it was time to stick up for myself and my team,” said Priya. “I stuck with it because I knew it was the right thing to do.”

Because hotel management refused to voluntarily recognize the workers’ choice to form a union, Teamsters 856 was forced to file for an election with the National Labor Relations Board. On that same day the Local filed for election, a contingent of members of UNITE HERE Local 2 went to the general manager and asked for a guarantee that the hotel would not intimidate or retaliate against the employees who were trying to organize. On the following Monday, the employees participated in an action where they all wore Teamsters 856 pins.

“We asked Local 2 and Local 665 to join in, and over the weekend the workers pinned up,” said Kathleen. “When they saw the union employees proudly wearing their union pins, the show of support and solidarity gave the organizing workers the confidence to help carry them through,” she continued.

In addition to support from union members inside the W Hotel, the workers received encouraging video messages and even visits from members of the Teamsters 856 Hotel Activists’ Committee, who wanted the workers to know they had their back. The committee is made up of Teamsters 856 members at more than two dozen hotels across San Francisco.

When the election was held on February, 28th, 100% of the workers who voted chose to become Teamsters 856 members.

“I was really happy it was 100%,” said Cesar. “Some people had doubts and may have been scared, but in the end, they realized standing together was the best thing to do. Now we’re ready for negotiations.”

For Kathleen, a longtime Teamsters 856 steward at the Park Central Hotel, the victory is a win for all hotel workers in the city.

“I hope it opens the way for people to become less fearful of being members of a union,” she explained. “Workers are more protected when they are in a union and raising standards for W Hotel workers will help raise standards industry-wide.”