San Bruno City Council OKs Hotel Deal Despite Unions’ Objections
Workers Protest as Developer Fails to Commit to Union Labor
Opponents of the sale of city land to OTO Development spoke at the San Bruno City Council’s special meeting March 29.
The San Bruno City Council voted March 29 to approve the sale of city land to developer OTO for construction of a luxury Marriot hotel. The South Carolina-based developer has refused to meet with representatives of the Hotel Workers union, UNITE-HERE Local 2, to work out a card-check agreement and has not agreed to a Project Labor Agreement with the Building Trades for construction work on the project.
UNITE HERE Local 2 President Anand Singh noted that OTO had agreed to a PLA and card-check for hotel workers for its projects in Santa Monica and Boston, and asked why San Bruno was getting a second-rate deal. Many union members spoke at the March 29 City Council meeting and urged the Council to reject the deal with OTO unless the developer agrees to meet with union representatives and agrees to offer union jobs with union wages and benefits. After the Council voted 4 – 1 to sell the city-owned land at the intersection of I-380 and El Camino Real to the developer, Local 2 began gathering signatures to qualify a referendum for the November ballot to stop the project.
At the Council meeting, City Manager Connie Jackson touted the benefits of the hotel project, which has been in the works since 2001. She said, “A hotel is the best use of the property” and will bring $1 million in transient occupancy tax revenue to San Bruno annually. She said the project would create 100 construction jobs and 30 to 40 permanent jobs.
OTO Development’s CEO, Corry Oakes, told the City Council that building a hotel at the irregularly shaped project site would be challenging and require technical expertise, but did not commit to using a union contractor and skilled union labor. Oakes said his company would pay competitive wages and offer benefits to the workers at the new Marriot hotel. He said his company prides itself its relationships with its employees, and that, “We don’t want someone between us and our team members. We are like a family. We don’t want someone else acting as a mediator.”
Several union and community members spoke up at the Council meeting in opposition to the deal with OTO Development. San Bruno resident Beatriz Johnston said she was concerned that OTO would not meet with local workers. “We are a strong union community, and I don’t want this project without an agreement to meet with the union,” she said. Teachers union member Mary Dowden said concerned community members had sent 137 postcards to OTO expressing concerns and asking for a meeting, but had received no response from the developer.
Leif Paulsen, an activist with the newly-formed San Bruno for Economic Justice coalition, said he was disappointed that OTO had failed to address the concerns of San Bruno union members. “I’m here to demand a better deal,” he said. Rev. Nancy Landauer said community members had requested a meeting with OTO to make sure that workers have a right to vote on having a union but, “all we got was silence.”
Kathy Cushman, a Local 2 member who works at SFO, said, “People need to have a voice and the right to unionize so they can have health care and not have to struggle” to afford to live in the Bay Area.
Resident Ryan Mrsny criticized the City Manager and Council for agreeing to sell the land to OTO for less than market rate in a “behind the scenes deal.” Mrsny said the Council showed “a lack of regard for city residents, and acts as if it’s the City Council’s land and not the residents’—it belongs to us.” He called the deal an “act of malpractice to sell to “a millionaire developer from South Carolina. It is a bad deal. Selling our land so cheaply to a billion-dollar company in a booming economy is a joke,” he said. “Our land is valuable and you are giving it away at a discounted rate.”
In casting the lone dissenting vote, Councilmember Marty Medina also expressed concerns about the sale of the land at a price he said is well below the appraised value of similar properties. He called for postponing a decision and re-appraising the land, but received no support for the proposal. Councilmember Rico Medina said using “skilled” labor “is one of my main concerns” but did not directly call for a commitment from OTO to hire union labor. Similarly, Mayor Jim Ruane and Councilmember Ken Ibarra said they supported the deal as a good one for the community.
Local 2’s Anand Singh said that while the developer has said their employees will receive competitive wages, without a union, workers would have no guarantee that they would receive good wages, benefits and job security. Local 2 and the San Bruno for Economic Justice coalition continued their signature gathering efforts to qualify a referendum as Labor went to press. San Mateo County Central Labor Council Executive Secretary Treasurer Shelley Kessler said the City Council members who voted against the interests of unions should be held accountable.
- Paul Burton