Hotel Frank Workers Are Fighting For All of Us

by Marc Norton on June 29, 2011

The protracted warfare at San Francisco’s Hotel Frank is a bold display of the tenacity and resilience of a small group of workers in a knock-down-drag-out fight with union-busting bosses in one of the most difficult periods for labor in decades.

This is truly a David-and-Goliath battle. When Wells Fargo Bank took over Hotel Frank in a foreclosure sale in May 2010, the corporate bean counters thought that they could dump our UNITE HERE Local 2 contract in the trash, fire a couple of key organizers, terrorize the staff and wash their hands of any real Union presence. How wrong they were …

Hotel Frank is a small “boutique” hotel. Consequently, we are a small group of workers, about 35 in total, but brave and unrelenting.

The fightback at Hotel Frank began in earnest last September, when workers marched into the lobby of Wells Fargo’s world headquarters in the Financial District and declared a boycott. Since then we have staged regular picket lines in our very public space one block from Union Square.

Hotel Frank has just one door. Guests walk through that door into a small lobby with picture windows that front directly onto busy Geary Street.

Workers picket right in front of that one door and the lobby windows. Some picket for a while, in full view of everybody in the lobby, including the bosses, then put down their picket signs and noisemakers to go to work. Others work their shifts, then walk out the door and join the line. Meanwhile there is a steady chant of “Shame on You!” for every guest who goes through that door. Guests are sometimes surprised to find themselves talking to a bellman or front desk worker who had been picketing the hotel just minutes before.

We usually show up on Saturday mornings about 7am, bullhorns in hand, to picket for an hour or so. Hotel patrons often greet the early-morning picket line with serious animosity. One guest, for example, came downstairs and took a swing at my jaw. He ended up in police custody. Another guest on another Saturday morning tried to wrestle our bullhorns away from us, and also ended up with a court date.

It is not just the early-morning pickets that generate excitement. There have been an assortment of people, sometimes liquored up in the hotel, who have yelled in our faces, stood in the path of our picket line, seemingly doing everything they can to provoke us into fights – while management looks on camera-in-hand. One such disrupter did this act twice one day, then gave up and walked away from the line arm-in-arm with the General Manager. It is not too hard to figure out what is going on here.

SOLIDARITY AND PERSEVERANCE IS THE KEY TO VICTORY

While huge labor battles have ebbed and flowed, whether public workers in the streets in Wisconsin or Walmart workers in the hallowed halls of the Supreme Court, Hotel Frank workers have soldiered on without letup. While many workers around the country have felt forced to knuckle-under to significant concessions, retire to bind their wounds and suffer their fate, the Hotel Frank fight has expanded to the home turf of the hotel’s management company, Provenance Hotels. We are honored that both the Portland Industrial Workers of the World IWW and the Seattle Solidarity Network have several times now picketed Provenance Hotels in their cities in solidarity with Hotel Frank workers, most recently on the weekend of June 17-18.

Here in San Francisco many local community organizations have bolstered our picket lines – including Jobs with Justice, the Green Party, ANSWER, the Living Wage Coalition, Radical Women, the National Lawyers Guild, POOR Magazine, and the East Bay Solidarity Network – as well as many individual workers, both organized and unorganized. The organized include both rank-and-filers and officials from AFT, SEIU, ILWU, Teamsters, the IWW and, of course, other Local 2 members.

Every worker who shows up on our picket line, for no matter how long, brings material aid and sustenance to our protracted fight, and strengthens the fightback for all workers everywhere.

A steady stream of MUNI drivers and cab drivers heading up busy Geary Street cruise past our picket lines. These transportation workers have their own serious fights with the powers-that-be, one of the reasons that we often exchange loud greetings of solidarity, usually involving the honking of horns.

One of our supporters in Seattle even wrote us a song. Here is how the song starts:

We are the workers of Hotel Frank.
Our dignity was robbed by Wells Fargo Bank.
They brought in new bosses called Provenance
And they’ve been treating us like dogs, ever since.

They ain’t gonna break us, we ain’t gonna fall.
Workers everywhere are standing tall.
So listen union busters, do we have your ear?
You don’t mess with the workers of UNITE HERE!

You can hear the rest of the song on You Tube.

FIGHTING THE “EVIL EMPIRE”

Arrayed against us are a whole host of financial speculators with names like AEW Capital Management, Aspen Capital, and Provenance Hotels. Wells Fargo sold the hotel to AEW, while Provenance Hotels, a subsidiary of Aspen Capital, continues to run the hotel. None of them have yet figured out that they can’t win, because we won’t quit. They keep waiting for us to get worn out. But it ain’t gonna happen.

Here is the latest review of the hotel on TripAdvisor, a popular on-line blog for travelers:

“As we were leaving one afternoon there were about 40 people standing outside the hotel protesting against the hotel. They booed us and generally told us what terrible people we are. This is clearly very distressing. Apparently, the hotel is under new management who are terrible people and are being a generally evil company being mean to the staff etc. The workers were also kind enough to summarize their argument in a nice little leaflet under our door. Management offered no explanation and issued no apology, staff on the front desk the same. But, as my wife pointed out they were unlikely to as they were likely to be some of the staff being badly treated by the evil empire.”

There are some unusual bit players in this drama, like the renowned jazz club Yoshi’s. Yoshi’s keeps sending out-of-town musicians across our picket lines to stay in the hotel. We have repeatedly leafleted Yoshi’s customers to inform them of this transgression, which drives Yoshi’s managers to distraction. They tell us they won’t send any more musicians to Hotel Frank, and then they do it again anyway. What are owners Michael Johnson and Kaz Kajimura thinking? Apparently they like the cheap cheap rates that the desperate Hotel Frank managers give them better than they like their reputation. Bad choice. San Franciscans have a very long memory.

Back in February, the National Labor Relations Board conducted a trial, charging the hotel with multiple violations of federal law, including illegally firing yours truly shortly after we declared the boycott. We are still waiting for the judge’s decision in this case, and have high hopes that he will come down on the side of justice.

But whether or not we win anything in the courts, we will undoubtedly win this fight in the streets, and in fact are winning this fight in the streets.

We persevere, and the beat goes on.

A few of weeks ago our Boycott Hotel Frank website went down in a cyber attack of unknown origin. We restored the site, and it went down again the next day. This was repeated for several days. Somebody doesn’t like our website, who knows who. Of course, we figured out how to fix it and prevent future attacks, because we just keep going.

Bring it on, Hotel Frank. We are glad to teach union busters everywhere what it means to take on a determined set of workers.

Be part of the fightback. Join us on the picket line. You’ll have a good time.

Marc Norton was a bellman for nearly twelve years at the Hotel Frank in downtown San Francisco, until he was fired last September after Wells Fargo Bank foreclosed on the property. For more info on the fight at Hotel Frank see www.HotelFrankSF.info. Contact Marc at nortonsf@ix.netcom..com, or through his website at www.MarcNorton.us.

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