Already facing a shortage of money and lagging ticket sales, President Clinton’s second inauguration may have another problem: the protests of hotel and restaurant workers who say they are losing a day of holiday pay.
Because the Jan. 20 inauguration falls on the Martin Luther King holiday, members of the Washington local of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees International Union contend that they are entitled to a day’s pay for working the holiday and double time for working on Inauguration Day, which is also counted as a holiday in Washington.
But they say that most of the hotels in the city are reneging on a promise to pay them triple time for working on Jan. 20.
Whether their contract has language that calls for double time for one holiday plus pay for the other holiday is in dispute.
“This is a freaky first-time thing,” said Emily Vetter, president of the Hotel Association of Washington, D.C. “There is nothing in the contract that says that.”
Nevertheless, several unionized hotels that are not members of the association capitulated to the unions Friday and agreed to pay triple time. If the rest of the hotels do not do likewise, the hotel and restaurant union is threatening a number of actions short of picketing, which is forbidden by their contract.
The union said it would distribute leaflets at unionized hotels and restaurants and use bullhorns to tell people of the situation. In addition, it said union members would wear large buttons depicting the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Clinton, separated by a large question mark, which is meant to prompt guests to ask the meaning of the button.
“We’re going to be very creative,” said John Boardman, secretary-treasurer of Local 25. If the hotels do not change their minds about paying overtime, “you bet we’re going to embarrass” them, he said.
Not honoring the observance of King’s birthday is a sensitive issue in Washington. “It’s not only a very important holiday for us, but a very emotional holiday,” Boardman said, his sentiments echoed by the executive vice president of the union, Ron Richardson.
“We hope we don’t have this issue in a Democratic administration in the nation’s capital, which is predominantly African-American, in a union that is overwhelmingly African-American,” Richardson said.
The White House declined to comment.
Boardman said the hotels’ position was just “greed.” Because the hotels require a fourday minimum stay and charge more than at any other time of year, “they have a huge windfall,” he said. “People are absolutely incensed. It’s a rather intolerable situation when they accuse us of being greedy.”