Tax break for Midas hotel project advances despite union concerns

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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 an upscale Sheraton Hotel at a cost of roughly $46 million. Midas is seeking a 75 percent tax abatement on the project but refused sign a neutrality agreement with UNITE HERE Local 74, stating if workers choose to organize into a union they can do so without interference. However, Midas CEO David Robert testified Jan. 17 that he would follow Labor law if employees choose to unionize.

The St. Louis Housing, Urban Development and Zoning (HUDZ) voted Jan. 17 to advance a tax subsidy supporting the remodeling of the struggling Oyo Hotel in downtown St. Louis, despite lingering concerns about the developer’s position on union Labor and workers organizing.

Maryland Heights-based Midas Hospitality plans to spend $46 million to turn the run-down Oyo Hotel on South 14th Street near the Enterprise Center into an upscale Sheraton.

The 10-year tax abatement, worth an estimated $2.7 million, had been held up since December amid opposition from UNITE HERE Local 74 and other unions, who wanted Midas CEO David Robert to sign a neutrality agreement that it wouldn’t try to stop hotel employees from organizing to form a union, should they choose to do so.

Robert refused but promised to follow Labor law if employees try to unionize.

‘WE’LL BE WATCHING’
Reginald Johnson, vice president of Local 74, which represents about 2,500 city hospitality and service industry workers, said the union would be watching to make sure Robert keeps that promise.

“That’s what we really wanted to do is get him on the record,” Johnson said. “From this point on we’ll have an eye on them. We’ll be watching and see what they’re do.

“The committee has got to follow the law, so we knew ahead the direction this was going, but we want them to know ahead we’ll be watching and we’re  never going to give up on looking out for the workers. That’s our main goal is to look out for the employees.”

A DIFFICULT DECISION
The standoff between Unite Here and Midas put aldermen in a difficult position. Many of  them campaigned on their support for Labor unions. At the same time, many of them want to see developments like Midas is proposing in the heart of downtown and sympathized with condo residents in the building who said the hotel’s recent decline had hurt their quality of life.

In the end, the deciding factor was a state law forbidding them from requiring Midas to sign a union neutrality agreement as a condition of the subsidy. Alderman Shane Cohn, of Dutchtown, and Michael Browning, of Forest Park Southeast, said that left them making the decision to advance the bill to the full Board of Aldermen on the project’s other merits.

Members of the HUDZ committee, and other unions and affiliates, said they too would be watching to make sure Midas keeps its promise.

OTHER SUPPORTING UNIONS
Unions and affiliates testifying or in attendance at the December hearing, some of whom also testified at Jan. 17 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.


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