Kahler, union contract talks at an impasse
Talks between the Kahler Hotel Group and the union representing most of its employees are at an impasse over health care benefits and wages.
KHG, which includes four downtown Rochester hotels and the Textile Care Services commercial laundry, has been talking with Unite Here Local 21, since the start of the year. Local 21 represents about 480 KHG employees, including approximately 250 at the hotels and 200 at TCS.
Due to a April 14 ruling by the National Labor Relations Board, the hotels and commercial laundry will no longer negotiate as one bargaining unit. That means each will have a separate contract, though the union says that the details of the proposed contract and points of contention are very similar for both groups.
The latest contract, which was a six-month extension of a previous three-year contract, ended at the start of March. Since then, the hotels' housekeepers, bartenders, cooks and bellmen, as well as the laundry employees, have been working without a contract.
Local 21 President Brian Brandt and a team of employee representatives met with KHG and Richfield Hospitality executives on Tuesday to discuss the proposed five-year contract. Both sides say that no progress was made nor was another meeting scheduled.
"The negotiations broke down very quickly," said Brandt. "They aren't budging even a little bit. They rejected our proposal outright without discussion or explanation of why."
Brandt said Tuesday's talks lasted only about a half of an hour.
Patrick Short, area managing director of operations for Kahler, said "several items" were covered at the meeting.
"At this time we are not against an additional meeting, but no date has been chosen. We currently are standing by our last proposal offered on March 24th," stated Short in an email Tuesday afternoon. The two sides last met on April 16.
Short released a broad outline of KHG's contract proposal with a statement last week.
"In our last best and final offer, we believe we have offered a very competitive package which continues to contain the best package for hospitality workers in the entire city of Rochester," he wrote in an email sent late Thursday afternoon.
Short says that KHG is paying for up to 70 percent of the premium costs for the insurance provided to the union associates.
But Brandt responded that the deductibles are too high — more than $4,300 for single and more than $8,500 for plus one and family coverage and no copay on the prescription medications.
On wages, Short said that KHG's offer would give 88 percent of the union associates an increase in their hourly rate of pay at the signing of the contract.
The union says while most would get a pay increase, the majority of employees would receive less than 1 percent on signing and less than 5 percent over the next 5 years. In addition, the offer reduces the step increases at 24, 42 and 60 months.
On the point of wages, Short said the KHG contract offer "does not reduce the hourly rate of pay for any of the union associates, regardless if the associate has been here a year or 30 years."
The union says one group of employees — banquet servers — will see a reduction of income under the KHG contract offer. They will no longer receive any of the service charge that the company adds on to customers' bill, which will result in a 50 percent or more pay loss for the servers.
Following Tuesday's meeting, Brandt said that Local 21 intends to file a number of charges against KHG of possible violations of federal law with the National Labor Relations Board. The charges include surface bargaining, bad faith bargaining, failing to provide accurate information for negotiations, discriminating against bargaining committee members concerning discipline and job assignments, telling probationary workers to remove union buttons, change in working conditions by removing union notices from bulletin boards where we have always been able to post them.
The question facing both groups now is what comes next in the negotiations.
"We'll definitely be taking more actions and doing the things we need to do to pressure on the company," said Brandt.
Those immediate actions will include more picket lines in front of the Kahler hotels. When asked if those actions could include some sort of strike or work stoppage, he responded, "It's is always an option, without a doubt."