Union hotel workers seeking delay in state-backed conversion to apartments
The State Bond Commission is expected to vote on the funding request for the redevelopment project at its meeting Tuesday as a way of saving a flagging property in the capital city. But the union representing the hotel workers, Local 217 of Unite Here, called for a postponement.
In a fight for their jobs, dozens of unionized workers are making an eleventhhour push to delay $11 million in state loans to renovate downtown Hartford’s Hilton hotel into apartments and a smaller number of hotel rooms.
The State Bond Commission is expected to vote on the funding request for the redevelopment project at its meeting Tuesday as a way of saving a flagging property in the capital city. But the union representing the hotel workers, Local 217 of Unite Here, at a rally outside the Hilton on Trumbull Street Monday afternoon and later at a virtual City Council meeting, called for a postponement.
“We’re asking for things to slow down until there is something in place to give security to these workers,” said John Stanley, the union’s secretary-treasurer. “They’re being asked to make a sacrifice here.”
About 60 of the union’s members face losing their jobs, Stanley said, adding that workers need more time to secure alternate employment or a financial remedy.
Before the pandemic, the hotel employed about 150 unionized workers compared with 98 currently. If the redevelopment project goes forward, only 30 to 40 employees would be needed, Stanley said.
“These are good jobs,” he said. “Many of our members buy houses with these jobs.”
The average hourly rate for a housekeeper, for example, is $19.72 plus health and retirement benefits. Kim Davis, a banquet server who has worked at the hotel for more than 30 years, said the job has helped her buy a home and send her son to college.
“Now I help support my elderly mom and mentally disabled sister,” said Davis, 63, who lives in Hartford.
The top Democrat in the Senate expressed support for the union’s request to delay the vote. Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said in a written statement Monday that “a limited, shortterm delay in bond commission action on this item would not be unreasonable.”
Looney, in his statement, pointed to a national fight by unions for better pay and benefits — an effort he said Democrats should support.
“Workers across the country are unionizing to achieve better wages, health care an retirement. Connecticut needs to stand with our unionized workers and against corporate greed that for too long has exploited working people,” Looney said in the written statement. “Turning our back on unions in Democratic Connecticut would send a chilling message to every American fighting to earn an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.”
But even a short-term delay could derail the Hilton project as the cashstrapped hotel is currently operating at about 20 percent occupancy, people involved in the project say. The Waterford Group, which owns and operates the Hilton, tried unsuccessfully to sell the property.
The Capital Region Development Authority, a quasi-public agency which is overseeing the project, sees it as the best solution to keep the hotel in business. Gov. Ned Lamont is chairman of the bond commission.
“It’s very critical that we hold this building as a hotel. This is the best solution we can come up with. I’m hopeful it gets resolved,” said Michael W. Freimuth, CRDA’s executive director.
The XL Center and the Connecticut Convention Center, two major venues in Hartford, both rely on the hotel “to meet demand from their events,” Freimuth added.
The proposal currently on the table is to downsize the Hilton from 393 rooms to 166, turn it into a DoubleTree, and convert the upper half of the building into 147 residential units, 20 percent of which would be classified as affordable.
Up for approval by the bond commission Tuesday is $5.1 million for hotel renovations and $5.9 million for the residential project. The total project is expected to cost $29 million — about $11 million for the hotel project and $18 million for residential redevelopment.