My story last night focused on some growing distress in the local hotel sector. But the uncertainty spreads beyond banks and investors owed money to the workers whose paychecks come from the same balance sheet that is so covered in red these days.

The hotel workers union fears that workers cleaning rooms, tending bar and checking in guests feel the squeeze when hotels need to cut costs. Hotel workers from around the region gathered at a rally outside the Westin in downtown San Diego yesterday afternoon, demanding that the owners of that hotel allow their workers to unionize.

The Westin is owned by Columbia Sussex, a corporation that owns 67 hotels nationwide — 14 of which it bought at once in 2005.

The union says it wants to find out if Columbia Sussex is doing here what it’s done at a Sacramento Hilton it also bought a few years ago. There, the corporation has cut benefits, frozen wages, increased workloads and laid off workers. That was the situation described by Joan Finnsson, a 78-year-old banquet server from that hotel who came to San Diego to share her experience at the rally.

“I’ve worked there for 18 years, through thick and thin, and have never seen things so bad,” she said.

The union is hoping to spark a boycott at the San Diego hotel and a handful of other properties around the county in order to send a message to the corporation.

“Hotel workers are tired of being squeezed every which way for irresponsible business decisions we did not make,” said Brigette Browning, the hotel workers union local president.

As for the W, you’d be hard-pressed to find signs that the swanky hotel — whose workers are unionized — is in foreclosure.

Chris Wood, a 29-year-old bartender there, said not much has changed. The workers had a chance to weigh in on some cuts, he said, like a wage freeze and some changes in shifts.

“You kind of expect there to be a negative backlash, but morale is actually good,” he said. “There’s no reason to have any sort of panic.”

Browning said that ideal situation was only possible because her union represents the hotel’s workers.


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