Midas hotel project on hold over developer’s refusal to sign neutrality agreement

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By TIM ROWDEN
Editor-in-Chief

MIDAS HOSPITALITY has proposed renovating the Oyo Hotel in downtown St. Louis and rebranding it as a Sheraton Hotel at a cost of roughly $46 million. Midas is seeking a 75 percent tax abatement on the project but has refused sign a neutrality agreement stating if workers choose to organize into a union they can do so without interference.

St. Louis — A dispute between UNITE HERE Local 74, representing hotel and restaurant workers, and hotelier Midas Hospitality came to a head at the St. Louis Housing, Urban Development and Zoning (HUDZ) committee meeting Dec. 12, where aldermen were expected to vote on Board Bill 129, which would grant Midas 10 years of a 75 percent tax abatement for a project to renovate the Oyo Hotel in downtown St. Louis and rebrand it as a Sheraton Hotel.

Instead, after three hours of debate among city officials, Midas, Local 74 and various union representatives, Alderman Rasheen Aldridge asked to hold the bill until January in the hope that Local 74 and Midas can come to an agreement.

Condominium residents in the Oyo testified in favor of the bill, explaining that if the $46 million project doesn’t go through they will be left with a deteriorating building.

Local 74 President Kim Bartholomew, representatives of other unions and affiliates, and State Senator Karla May (D-St. Louis) testified about the need for Midas to take care of its workers, starting by signing a neutrality agreement stating that if workers choose to organize into a union, they can do so without interference.

Midas has refused.

‘PUT IT IN WRITING’
Midas Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer David Robert said Midas doesn’t need to sign a neutrality agreement because they are a good employer. He also testified the company’s work on hotel projects is done with union labor. Representatives of building trades unions say that’s not true.

“You can make your mouth say anything,” Bartholomew said after the hearing. “Put it in writing.

“Local 74 cares deeply about the city, and we want to see this building refurbished but not at the price of our hospitality workers in the City of St. Louis,” Bartholomew testified. “The city should not only think about this building and the residents but also the workers who will be employed there, and those workers should not be left behind. I for one am tired of hospitality and service workers being the forgotten workforce in the City of St. Louis. Without these essential workers folks would not continue to visit our city.”

SOLIDARITY
Along with Local 74, unions and affiliates testifying or in attendance at the hearing included, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), Communications Workers (CWA) Retirees, Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1, Iron Workers 396, Laborers Local 110, Operating Engineers Local 148, Painters District Council 58, Service Employees (SEIU) Local 1, Sheet Metal Workers (SMART) Local 36 and United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 655, as well as, the Missouri Alliance of Retired Americans, Missouri Jobs with Justice, the Missouri Workers Center and Sanctuary in the Ordinary.

MAKING THEIR VOICES HEARD – representatives of UNITE HERE Local 74 and other unions and affiliates made their voices heard at the St. Louis Housing, Urban Development and Zoning (HUDZ) committee meeting Dec. 12, holding signs urging board members to vote on Board Bill 129, which would have granted Midas Hospitality 10 years of a 75 percent tax abatement for a project to renovate the Oyo Hotel in downtown St. Louis. The bill was withdrawn, with no vote taken. – Labor Tribune photo

IS MIDAS A GOOD EMPLOYER?
“Midas has said they are a good employer,” Bartholomew said in a letter to Board of Aldermen members on the HUDZ committee ahead of the Dec. 12 hearing. “If that’s the case, there should be no reason for them not to sign a neutrality agreement.”

Prior to the hearing, Bartholomew and her staff visited four properties that Midas lists on its website as St. Louis city properties it either owns or runs:

  • Element By Westin, 3763 Forest Park Ave.
  • Hotel Indigo, 501 Olive St.
  • Le Meridien, 1019 Pine St.
  • Aloft by Marriott, 4245 Duncan Ave.

In speaking with employees at the four properties, Local 74 found:

  • Employees cannot participate in the health insurance offered as it costs too much for the wages they receive. Employees also said their hours have been reduced, and they do not qualify for any of the benefits offered.
  • Earn wages between $14 and $16 an hour, with only one employee stating they received regular wages increases based on merit. Many said they had been at the property for three years and never received an increase and were thinking about leaving.
  • Do not have enough money to participate in a 401k plan, although they are offered one.
  • Are ineligible for vacation time because of their hours.
  • Most have not received bonuses.
  • Room attendants stated they are required to clean 14 rooms in a four-hour time period, a dangerous workload. Local 74 union contracts call for cleaning 14-16 rooms in an eight-hour period

“If Midas is a good employer then why would there be a problem signing a statement they would stay neutral?” Bartholomew asked the HUDZ committee. “Great employers that treat their employees with respect and dignity do not need to worry about their employees wanting union representation.”


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