City Beat

Unions seek to organize new downtown Sacramento hotels

An artist’s rendering of a new Kimpton hotel under construction next to Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento.
An artist’s rendering of a new Kimpton hotel under construction next to Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento. Sacramento Kings

A new battleground is taking shape in Sacramento’s organized labor movement.

Labor unions have raised questions about hotel projects on either side of the central city in recent months. And with more hotel development expected in the years ahead, this tension will be worth watching.

At its core, the friction centers on whether the hotels of downtown’s future will allow employees to organize, as has nearly every major hotel built downtown in the past 25 years. That was the issue simmering beneath the surface during a short-lived effort to push for better pay and benefits at the new Kimpton hotel under construction adjacent to Golden 1 Center.

Unite Here, a union representing hotel and food service workers, threatened to collect signatures for a ballot measure seeking an elevated minimum wage and other benefits for employees at the arena hotel and adjacent entertainment venues. The minimum-wage increases they sought would have outpaced new statewide standards signed into law this year by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The union had until April 28 to file signatures with the city, but it missed that deadline. It’s unclear where the campaign to organize the hotel workers stands today, but it should be noted the employees at Golden 1 Center will be unionized.

Most of the big downtown hotels, including the Citizen and Sheraton Grand, employ union labor. Those hotels also were built with some form of public subsidy, and City Hall is more likely to require union protection and benefits for publicly funded projects.

So far, the Kings ownership has not formally sought a public subsidy for the Kimpton hotel. Without a subsidy, organized labor is lacking key leverage.

That leverage also is missing in the appeal Unite Here is pursuing of the planning commission’s recent approval of Fort Sutter Hotel, at 28th Street and Capitol Avenue. The union said in its appeal that the six-story hotel won’t create enough community benefit to justify its size. City staff disagrees, and the City Council is expected to deny the appeal at its meeting Tuesday.

Within just a few years, the city is poised to spend millions of dollars to expand the convention center and rehab Community Center Theater – work that many expect will result in at least one more downtown hotel.

“If that’s the case, we have to make sure we do everything we can to make sure these workers have representation,” said Fabrizio Sasso, head of the Sacramento Central Labor Council.

Sasso’s influential labor organization is a big supporter of former state Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, who is running for mayor against Councilwoman Angelique Ashby. That could be an important ally as downtown approaches a hotel boom.

“These are the kind of jobs we’re trying to attract to Sacramento – jobs for people who are making a livable wage and are able to support themselves,” Sasso said.