Matthew Brokman: Take a stronger stance against State Plaza Hotel

Last August, the State Plaza Hotel was found guilty of coercing employees to oppose its workers’ unionization attempt. Court documents showed that hotel management fired the employee who was leading the unionization fight and delayed negotiations to break up the union.

These actions were taking place in a hotel where several GW students’ parents are probably staying this weekend. The actions have led to a recent ruling by the National Labor Relations Board to force the management to enter into negotiations with the union in good faith. As a result of the State Plaza Hotel’s actions, the Progressive Student Union of GW requests that it be removed from GW’s list of recommended hotels for Colonials Weekend and other events, such as Commencement.

In September 2003, the employees of the State Plaza Hotel voted to unionize, affiliating themselves with the Hotel and Restaurant Employees, Local 25, Unite Here International Union. In June 2004, the union was certified by the NLRB as the collective-bargaining representative of nearly 70 employees of the hotel. After filing multiple objections, all of which were repeatedly found not to have merit, the management of the State Plaza Hotel has continually ignored federal labor law, according to the NLRB decision.

The State Plaza’s delays and illegal actions have meant that the workers of the hotel, who voted to unionize by a margin of two to one, have gone three years since their original vote without any good faith negotiations from the hotel. The workers voted in favor of the Union in response to long, difficult shifts without market standard pay and benefits. These workers have continued working in their positions throughout this long process, despite an increasingly hostile work environment created by the management.

In a Sept. 7 Hatchet article, the union informed the paper that it intends to ask GW to remove the hotel from the University’s recommended list until management complies with the court decision and acts in accordance with federal law. The distressing response from the director of Parent Services was that no action would be taken until the University recognizes that the hotel acted illegally.

The University’s response is puzzling since a federal administrative law judge has already ruled against the hotel. The director of Parent Services, as a responsible guide for GW’s visitors, should be aware of activities at all the hotels we refer.

Since GW refers many parents and prospective students to the State Plaza, we are in a powerful position to coerce management to comply with the recent ruling by entering into negotiations in good faith and to agree to a fair contract for the State Plaza workers by removing the hotel from this list. This action would send a clear message to hotel management that their business will suffer if they do not obey the law. It is impossible to say with accuracy the impact of such action. Even so, using past labor organizing as a guide, forcing the hotel to act in accordance with federal law is more likely to result in positive action than closure.

It is troubling to think that our University would condone illegal activity, including termination and threats against unionized employees and threats to close or sell the hotel if union support continues. Promoting these illegal activities by way of inaction is certainly not what I want this University to be doing.

This is a great opportunity for the University to positively affect D.C. and, specifically, Foggy Bottom. Facing continual pressure from the outside community to be a University that cares about the city beyond its borders, GW could take this chance to say, “we care.” The Progressive Student Union even recommends that the hotel be re-added once it reaches an agreement with the union, possibly even with a special note saying they are unionized. Thus, we are not asking GW to take any permanent or substantial action against the hotel.

In light of all of these facts, I urge the Office of Parent Services, which continually goes to great lengths to plan for campus visitors, to remove the State Plaza Hotel from its list of recommended hotels. Doing so would help promote social and economic justice and make a positive change for our community.

-Matthew Brokman, a junior majoring in political science and history, is a member of the GW Progressive Student Union.

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