It was three years ago that Gloria Tartaglione walked off her job as an executive housekeeper in protest of poor working conditions and low wages paid to maids at the Holiday Inn hotels in Burbank and Glendale.
Tartaglione eventually returned to her management-level job and never participated in the long and feisty battle that ensued between workers and the owner of the hotels, Joseph A. Perry of Glendale. But her 11-day walkout triggered a fight that finally ended last month when about 200 workers got a union contract--with small pay raises and other benefits.
Perry and the Service Employees International Union, Local 100-D signed a contract on Dec. 18 that gives service employees at the two hotels pay raises ranging from 3% to 31% over the next three years. Included in the contract are maids, bus boys, laundry workers, bartenders and bellhops.
Union officials admit the raises, which increased housekeeping salaries from $3.40 an hour to $4 and $4.50 an hour, are still meager compared to wages paid other hotel employees in Los Angeles. Yet, they say the agreement is a step in the right direction.
Tartaglione said the new-found happiness among her workers is worth the risk she took of losing her job in 1985. Union officials, legal representatives and workers said the labor movement created a sense of solidarity among employees that has given them self-esteem and hope.
'Need to Fight for Rights'
Tartaglione, an immigrant from Cuba, said, "This is the United States and we need to fight for women's rights. This sets a good example for women, for workers, especially Latin women, everywhere."
Tartaglione, 47, had been the executive housekeeping manager at the Burbank hotel for about a year when she said she had "had enough." In complaints she later filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, Tartaglione charged that Perry took unfair advantage of Latinos.
She charged that he required women to scrub floors on their hands and knees, coerced employees into resigning with little provocation and transferred employees from the Burbank to Glendale hotel, where they were assigned to work fewer hours as punishment for infractions on the job.
On Jan. 30, 1985, Tartaglione disobeyed Perry's order to transfer two housekeeping supervisors to Glendale and walked off the job instead. "We had no respect," she said. "I thought it was necessary."
Twenty-eight housekeeping workers at the Burbank hotel joined her in the 11-day walkout. Several weeks later, housekeepers at the Glendale hotel also walked off, with the support of the United Auto Workers.
Hotel employees complained that Perry had signed a "sweetheart agreement" with a disinterested union, Local 531 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union. Workers said the union contract cut their wages and eliminated medical insurance and vacations. Union officials denied the allegations but eventually dropped their representation.
After Tartaglione's action, workers at the two hotels formed informal action committees. They obtained the support of the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice and filed charges against Perry with the National Labor Relations Board, which ruled in 1985 that workers be paid back wages and reinstated in their positions, said Antonio Rodriquez, the attorney who represented the workers.
Win Union's Interest
The plight of the workers eventually won the interest of the Service Employees International Union, which was accepted as the employees' representative by a 149-9 vote in December, 1985.
Two years of negotiations then began with Perry, whom union officials described as one of the most cantankerous employers they have met.
Don Clemons, the union's business manager who negotiated the contract, said, "I expect all employers to come across the table fighting and he is no different." But he also said that Perry "is very emotional and loud" and that "he wouldn't give us anything."
Perry, who has been described by former associates as a no-frills businessman who lacks diplomacy, refused to comment on the bargaining sessions. However, in a 1987 interview, Perry said, "I'm not the easiest guy to get along with. I'm a tough negotiator."
Clemons said Perry and his attorney fought long and hard against any efforts by the union to obtain economic benefits for hotel workers. Last year, a commissioner from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service was called in to settle the dispute. "We had reached an impasse," Clemons said. "I could see we weren't going anywhere."
Still caught in a stalemate, the union last October called for a one-day work stoppage among service employees at the Burbank hotel the day before a major full-house convention was planned.
The union strategy worked, and Perry agreed to grant some economic advantages, Clemons said. While Clemons admits the concessions are small, he said he will seek greater benefits when the three-year union contract is renegotiated.
Tartaglione, still executive housekeeper at the Burbank hotel, insists she did not lead the battle. Instead, she said, she sought to win the respect of others for her 60 employees. "It's over, I hope," she said. "Democracy works."