Sunday, August 27, 2006

Denver admits bid could be in trouble

WE'VE MOVED! Democratic Convention Watch is now at

I asked last Monday, is Denver's union issue really an issue? Well, representatives of Denver's bid have answered the question. It is an issue:

Denver will probably lose its bid for the 2008 Democratic National Convention unless the city gets a union hotel, leaders of the effort to bring the convention here have acknowledged. The pressure stems from a lobbying effort by a local union that has been trying to organize the new Hyatt Regency Denver at Colorado Convention Center. Its opposition to Denver's bid has caught on with delegates from strong union states.

"In my opinion, it would be extremely out of character" for the Democrats to choose a city without a union hotel, Debbie Willhite, a national Democratic insider and the executive director of Denver's bid, said Friday. The Democratic National Committee does not require organized labor as a rule. In 1972, for instance, the party held its convention in Atlanta without union hotels.

Well, first of all, the convention in Atlanta was held in 1988. Secondly, there were union hotels in Atlanta, just not many of them.

But the request for a proposal for the convention seeks an agreement between the host committee and labor - essentially to ensure there won't be a work stoppage. The Denver Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, distributed a resolution in May to fight Denver's bid unless the city gets a union hotel.

Democratic delegates from states with strong union presences say they're uneasy about staying in non-union hotels. "We simply cannot," said Vivian Guinan, comptroller of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party.

Attention in Denver is focusing on the new, city-bonded Hyatt. A group called Unite Here is working to organize about 650 of its workers. Labor at the hotel remains unorganized, however, despite language approved by voters that management cannot oppose unionization.

"No one has ever been against them forming a union," said City Councilwoman Elbra Wedgeworth, who is president of Denver's host committee and a member of the Denver Convention Center Hotel Authority Board. Denver Area Labor Federation president Leslie Moody could not be reached for comment Friday but issued a statement: "It is our hope that Denver will have more than one union hotel by the summer of 2008 when the convention is due to be held."

Denver is among three finalists - along with Minneapolis- St. Paul and New York - vying to host Democrats when they nominate their next presidential candidate. Denver has at times been considered the front runner because of perceptions that the Rocky Mountain West is politically in play.

But Willhite and Wedgeworth confirmed that they have been told by delegates that to win the bid, Denver needs at least one union hotel as a nod to labor. Both New York and Minneapolis have union hotels.

Willhite said she asked Democrats to give the city time to address the union concerns. She believes that if Denver shows progress toward organized hotel labor, the city could still have a good shot at the convention. "Really, we have two years to get this done," she said.

But Ilene Kamsler, president of the Colorado Hotel & Lodging Association, said if a union was needed, there would already be one. "I for the life of me don't understand why, if the employees don't want it, why the Democratic Party sees a need to impose that on the employees," Kamsler said.

Local labor groups have asked Mayor John Hickenlooper to back their efforts. The mayor, however, on Friday said that is not the city's role. "The city created a fair, unbiased opportunity for the union to talk directly to all the workers at the Hyatt," he said. "And right now we are waiting to hear what the workers decide."

I think what's happening here is that Willhite, who has extensive connections with the national Democratic party, realizes she needs to publicly apply some pressure to get at least one hotel unionzed, or Denver will not get the convention. Compare what Willhite said:
"In my opinion, it would be extremely out of character" for the Democrats to choose a city without a union hotel.
to what Wedgeworth said back in May:
"In terms of them using this as a vehicle to unionize the Hyatt, we don't feel that's appropriate," said Denver City Councilwoman Elbra Wedgeworth, who is also a co-chairwoman of the host committee. "They need to do that on their own."
Do they have a point? Of course," Wedgeworth added. "But should we be the leverage for them to make that point? I don't think so."
Willhite clearly understands that this issue needs to be resolved. But she says, "
Really, we have two years to get this done." Given that the host city will be decided this fall, it might be more like two months.


DenverDan said...

I agree with what Wedgeworth is saying. I don't think Denver's bid should be held captive by a group trying to make a point. And if the workers don't see the need to form a union, that's their business. I'd be disappointed if this is the reason we aren't given a chance. I do think the media is playing this up a bit. Slow news day..."hey, we need something on the convention. OH, I know let's play up the union issue!"