UPDATE: Hilton management offers comments

By John Branton, Columbian Staff Reporter

Published:

Updated: December 20, 2011, 9:01 PM

 

About 200 of them came out on a chilly night — children, young adults, middle-aged and some older — demonstrating for better pay and health care.

It's not happening at the Hilton Vancouver Washington, some employees said.

A Unite Here protest occurred Tuesday evening outside the hotel and Vancouver City Hall, across Sixth Street from Esther Short Park. Protester Lucas Fielder, an employee at the hotel, said the Vancouver Hilton is highly ranked in customer-service surveys. “We take a lot of pride in what we do here,” he said.

But Fielder said his base-level salary of $8.93 per hour, near minimum wage, means “I’ve had to take a second job” and work 16-hour days.

The Hilton and its employee union have been locked in heated negotiations over salaries and health care.

UPDATE: The Vancouver Hilton's general manager, Eric Walters, could not comment Tuesday night, but offered comments Wednesday:

"Regarding comparison to Portland hospitality wages: We collect significantly less revenues here in Vancouver for our goods and services compared to similar hotels in Portland.

"We do pay a competitive wage in Clark County for hospitality jobs. In most cases, we pay the most when you consider the entire compensation package which includes wages, health benefits and employer contributions to the union’s pension plan.

"Our current offer that is on the table is a 3% increase in wages the first year (The same that non-union Team Members received this year at the hotel) and 2% for the second and third year of the contract.

"Regarding comments on economic action: Hotel union Team Members voted down a union ran boycott vote on November 10th. The hotel’s union Team Members spoke loud and clear, they do not support a union ran boycott of the Hilton Vancouver Washington.

"Overall comments: We look forward to getting back to the table with the union and negotiating a fair contract for our Team Members."

Several employees confirmed to The Columbian that a majority of union members voted against a boycott, which would have involved calling their customers and asking them to stay away.

The contract expired in June, and its union-represented workers are charging that the hotel fails to pay fair wages or provide affordable medical coverage.

Unite Here, which represents workers in the U.S. and Canada who work in different industries — including the hotel, gaming and food service sectors — represents more than 100 workers at the hotel in downtown Vancouver.

Local union leaders have said housekeepers make little more than minimum wage, and the hotel hasn’t offered better terms for some time. The union also says housekeepers and dishwashers at the hotel chain’s site in Vancouver make roughly $3 less an hour than their counterparts in Portland.

Jillian Provence, who said she’s an on-call banquet server, told other protesters she’s proud of the company too but disappointed about the low pay. Some employees apply for public assistance and food benefits, she said.

The hotel’s employees are represented by Local 9 of the AFL- CIO, based in Portland, and voted to take economic action, said Karly Edwards, an affiliate leader.

The Columbian called the hotel after the protest and was told no one who was there was authorized to comment.

John Branton: 360-735-4513 or john.branton@columbian.com.