You lose a lot on the left. We all get used to it; we’re fighting against a rich, entrenched power structure and the rules of the game are rigged against us. For people in the labor movement, it’s been a particularly bad year; all over the country, politicians are looking for ways to undermine collective bargaining rights.
So it’s nice to win one every now and then — and it’s nice to be able to say that labor, progressive labor, just won a major victory in San Francisco. But it’s no surprise that the San Francisco Chronicle got the story wrong.
For several years now, the owners of the Fairmont Hotel have wanted to tear down a tower built in the 1960s, eliminate 226 hotel rooms, and build about 160 luxury condos instead. The hotel workers union, not surprisingly, worried about a loss of jobs; condo owners don’t use housekeeping. But it’s a larger issue than that: people who buy hotel condos don’t live there much. Most of the rooms that have been converted nationwide become pieds à terre for very wealthy people. They spend a few nights a year in their units; the rest of the time, the places are empty. Nobody there to shop, eat, or get entertained in SF; nobody spending money here.
So it’s a nice little bit of class warfare: The city loses hotel and restaurant jobs — and part of the city’s tourist infrastructure — so that the owners (including a Saudi prince and Oakland A’s owner Lou Wolff) can make a fast windfall profit. (Think $1 million to $2 million each for 160 condos and you get the picture.)
The owners hired Willie Brown to make their case at City hall; Mayor Ed Lee quickly introduced legislation that would allow the conversion. The Chron picked up the ownership line: only condos can save the Fairmont. “The business has migrated downhill to new hotels near the Moscone Convention Center south of Market,” the paper lamented in an April 17 editorial. Done deal, right?
Well, no. Local 2, the hotel workers union, did an amazing job of organizing, working with Nob Hill neighbors and, by the way, pointing out the facts — the Fairmont has outperformed the SoMa hotels during 10 of the past 11 years, has enviable occupancy rates and stands to reap the benefits of the America’s Cup. Facing a possible strike and a battle royal at City Hall, the Fairmont blinked. The condo plan is dead. Good work, my friends.