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The overlooked issue in the Westin Hotel labor dispute

May 28, 2010

The hotel workers enmeshed in a labor dispute with the management of the Westin Hotel in Providence have been the subject of a joust between Rhode Island Democrats and Republicans over the prickly topic of labor-management relations. WRNI political analyst Scott MacKay explores an issue none of the politicians are talking about.

Lisa Gill of Providence is a 22-year old housekeeper at the Westin Hotel, one of the crown jewels of Providence’s downtown rebirth. She changes sheets, cleans bathrooms and tidies up after the hotel’s guests.
Until March, her union job paid her 14 dollars and 37 cents an hour. Health insurance for her and her two young children cost her $30 a week.
Then came a labor dispute between her union, Local 217 of the Unite Here Union, and her employer, the Procaccanti Group, which owns the hotel.
Gill’s wages were cut by 20 percent to eleven-fifty an hour, and her share of health insurance was raised to over $100 a week, she says.
As she walked a picket line outside the hotel on a humid evening last week, Gill lamented giving up her health insurance, but said she has little choice. “It seemed like it was taking up all of my paycheck,’’ said Gill.
Her two children, 3-year old Julian and 2-year old Alycee, accompanied her to the picket line.
Gill is lucky that they can be covered by Rhode Island’s Rite Care medical insurance for low-income children.
But if Gill gets sick, she’ll have to rely on charity care at a local hospital or clinic.
So no matter what, Rhode Island taxpayers are picking up the tab: they’re paying for her children’s coverage. And if she gets sick, they’ll pay for her care, as well – because the cost of free care at, say, the Rhode Island Hospital emergency room, is passed on to those of us who pay for health insurance.
The first mission of a business, of course, is to make a profit. Even most liberal Democrats agree with Franklin Roosevelt’s famous dictum that the government can never devise an anti-poverty program as effective as a paycheck.
But don’t businesses have a responsibility to provide health benefits to their workers?
If not, then you have to ask if it’s fair for taxpayers and health insurance customers to pick up the tab for the workers of the city’s only five-star hotel? Shouldn’t that cost be included in the price of a suite?
Last week, state Democratic leaders joined workers on the picket line — supporting a boycott of the hotel in an effort to pressure Westin management back to the bargaining table.
Among them was Ed Pacheco, state Democratic chairman, who told the picketers that “the Rhode Island Democratic Party strongly supports good paying jobs for all workers”.
Hotel spokesman Frank Izzi says as far as the Westin is concerned, the cost of health care is NOT a part of the this impasse with labor. And Republican Party State Chairman Giovanni Cicione defended the Procaccanti Group, saying the workers and Democrats are contributing to an anti-business atmosphere that has blemished the state’s economic development efforts.
The best solution would be for the union and management to work out an agreement. Negotiation is always better than confrontation in these disputes.
The two sides should forge a deal that is fair to everyone – including businesses and workers – as well as the taxpayer and insurance rate-payers of Rhode Island.

One Comment leave one →
  1. lisa gill permalink
    May 29, 2010 12:34 am

    great story!!

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