[SF Bay View] UNITE HERE Local 2 President Mike Casey Stepping Down
– What’s ahead (and behind) for SF’s iconic hotel workers union?
Date: 2015-05-12 08:40
From: Marc Norton <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Long-time UNITE HERE Local 2
President Mike Casey Stepping Down
What’s ahead (and behind) for San Francisco’s iconic hotel workers
union, and an interview with Casey’s successor, Anand Singh
SAN FRANCISCO BAY VIEW 
May 11, 2015
Copyright © 2015 Marc Norton and Jeff Myers
_See also Marc Norton Online _
Mike Casey, who has led San Francisco’s UNITE HERE Local 2 for over
twenty years, is stepping down. Casey was first elected President of
Local 2 in 1994, after a tumultuous period in the 1970s and 1980s that
resulted in large membership losses. He has presided over a period of
stabilization, consolidation and growth. Local 2, once known as the
Culinary Union for its many restaurant contracts that have long since
disappeared, is now better known as the Hotel Union.
The election for the new leadership was on Friday, May 8, but there was
no drama there. Anand Singh, Casey’s handpicked successor, was running
without any real opposition. Singh, of Indian descent, will be the first
non-white President of Local 2, a union overwhelmingly made up of
workers of color. But there is no reason to believe that this leadership
change signals any difference in the Union’s policies or strategic
perspective. Singh has been a loyal lieutenant to Casey for many years.
Singh is 35. He was born the same year as one of the defining moments
in Local 2’s history – the month-long 1980 strike of 6,000 enraged San
Francisco hotel workers. Singh grew up in Thousand Oaks in Southern
California, went to UC Berkeley, and worked for a period with EBASE,
an East Bay non-profit that describes itself as “Building Power with
Workers, Community and People of Faith.”
Singh’s work with EBASE brought him together with UNITE HERE Local
2850 in the East Bay. From there he was recruited to work for Local
2, joining the San Francisco staff in 2004, when he was 24 years old,
just before another defining moment in Local 2’s history – the 51-day
strike and lockout of 14 San Francisco hotels.
Singh has never worked in the hotel, restaurant or hospitality industry.
Local 2 today is solid in what has become its core membership – workers
in large, luxury Class A hotels in San Francisco. But this is an island
of stability in the midst of a stormy sea. While Local 2 faces no immediate
crises, there are underlying problems that are festering just below the
surface that may well challenge Singh.
What happens in Local 2 is of major significance to the labor movement
in San Francisco, one of the most storied “union towns” around. Local 2
is viewed by many as the poster child for progressive unionism in San
Francisco, playing second fiddle only to the renowned International
Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), the chief protagonist in the
famed 1934 San Francisco General Strike.
But, not unlike other unions, the reality for Local 2 workers is
a bit more complicated than it might seem to the outside observer.
This article is informed by our history as long-time members of Local 2.
Marc first joined Local 2 in 1976, and is a former dishwasher, busser,
cook and bellman, currently working as a cashier at the Giant’s ballpark.
He served on the elected hotel contract negotiating committee during the
1980 hotel strike, and most recently was involved in a fierce battle at
a small hotel formerly named HOTEL FRANK, now HOTEL G. Jeff first joined
Local 2 in 1980, was elected Shop Steward at the FRANCISCAN on Fisherman’s
Wharf in 1983, served on the 1984 restaurant strike committee and the 2004
hotel contract negotiating committee. Jeff has worked for 25 years at the
ST. FRANCIS HOTEL as a banquet server and shop floor activist.
LOCAL 2 ABORNING
The culinary and hotel workers in San Francisco have been organized in
one form or another for over a century. One of the two workers murdered
by the San Francisco police on Bloody Thursday in 1934 that led to the
General Strike was a Union cook named Nick Bordoise.
But to understand Local 2 today, it is important to understand the
trajectory of its development in the modern era.
Local 2 was born of the merger of several craft unions in 1975. The
merger was decreed by then International Union President Edward Hanley.
Although UNITE HERE officials vehemently deny it, Hanley is widely
believed to have been put in place by Joey “Doves” Aiuppa, a prominent
Chicago mobster. Mobster or not, Hanley and his Chicago-based cohorts
presided over a regime of corruption and easy money for 25 years,
wallowing in the dues money of some of the lowest-paid union workers in
the country, and in the pension contributions from their employers.
Hanley intended the 1975 merger creating Local 2 to consolidate his
power. Ironically, it had the opposite effect. In those days, it was the
more privileged white, male servers, bartenders and cooks who ruled the
roost. But the merger threw thousands of neglected room cleaners,
overwhelmingly women of color, into the mix. In 1978, the first time
Local 2 members got a chance to elect their leadership, they threw
Hanley’s guy in San Francisco, Joe Belardi, out with the trash.
The drama that followed the 1978 election can only be encapsulated here,
including the formation and reformation of several rank-and-file caucuses at
a time when insurgent activists were still riding high in the workers movement;
monthly confrontations at union meetings, sometimes involving reactionary
gun-toting thugs; an International-imposed trusteeship; and a tumultuous
month-long strike in 1980 by 6,000 workers at nearly every hotel in town,
forced on Union officials by an enraged membership, ending with a bargain
struck in a secret meeting in Los Angeles by Hanley and the hotel bosses
that remains highly controversial to this day.
In the aftermath of the 1980 hotel strike there was a disastrous
restaurant strike in 1984, which collapsed amidst accusations of
sabotage by Hanley’s henchmen. There were two highly contested Local 2
elections during this period, in 1982 and 1985, both fraught with
irregularities, before things settled down a bit. Hanley’s candidates
held on in both elections.
In 1995, the Department of Justice imposed a federal “monitor” on the
International Union, with the power to remove Union officials accused of
corruption or mob connections, from both the International and local
unions. Hanley was retired in 1998. He died two years later in a
collision on a country road in Wisconsin.
But Hanley’s legacy is hardly dead – John Wilhelm, who succeeded
Hanley, and D. Taylor, the current International President, are two
white men who both came up during Hanley’s reign. They shed the mob
connections and the taint of corruption, but some of the Godfather
Casey also came up during the Hanley years. Like Wilhelm and Taylor,
Casey was never personally touched by any allegations of corruption. But
all of their careers as labor officials depended upon adopting the
proverbial hear-no-evil, see-no-evil, speak-no-evil posture.
Singh will be the first President of Local 2 who did not cut his teeth
in the Union during Hanley’s reign.
ENTER MIKE CASEY
Mike Casey first became President of Local 2 in 1994. Casey, the son of
union activists, grew up in Stockton and Sacramento, and worked with
farm workers early in his career. He was hired by Local 2 in 1986.
Julius Getman, a prominent labor scholar, wrote a book in 2010 in which
he quoted Marc, one of the authors of this article, saying that Casey
“is the best thing we’ve had as long as I’ve been around.” Getman
got lots of things very wrong about Local 2 in his book, but he quoted
Casey brought order out of near-chaos. In the aftermath of the 1980
hotel strike and the 1984 restaurant strike, new Class A hotels opened
up all over town without a contract. Density, that is the ratio of union
shops to non-union shops, was dropping like a rock in the San Francisco
hotel industry. Casey focused organizing on some of these big hotels. It
was not an easy process, and it took years, but eventually Local 2 won
contracts at the PARC 55 and the MARRIOTT. Casey went on to win
recognition for Local 2 at newly built Class A hotels in the City, such
as the FOUR SEASONS, the W, and the INTERCONTINENTAL.
In 2004, Local 2 called a two-week strike at four Class A hotels. The
hotel bosses responded by locking out workers at fourteen Class A
hotels. The Union met the challenge head on, and beat back the lockout
after 51 days on the line. Local 2 settled the Class A hotel contract in
Over the years, the Casey administration has won a well-deserved
reputation for Local 2 as a scrappy union that doesn’t let up once it
gets involved in a fight.
The most important key to Casey’s success has been the building of a
base of support among room cleaners in the hotels. These workers had
been sorely neglected by the old guard, and had directly led to their
downfall in the 1978 Local 2 election. The process of building support
among the room cleaners began before Casey arrived, but he continued and
rationalized the process. Today, these are the archetypal workers that
Local 2 calls to mind, rather than the front-of-the-house waiters and
bartenders of times past.
During Casey’s administration, the Class A hotel contracts have been
maintained and expanded. Wages and working conditions have steadily
improved. Pensions have increased dramatically, a defined-benefit plan
that provides around $1,000 per month for 20-year employees.
Most significantly, Local 2 has preserved one of the best medical plans
in the country – full coverage paid entirely by the employers, a $10
fee for most doctor visits, and $10 per month for family coverage.
People’s mouths usually drop open when we tell them about our medical
Contracts have recently been renewed at the Giants ballpark and the San
Francisco airport. Both of these contract campaigns required short
Casey has wisely chosen a good time to step down. Class A hotel
contracts are in place until 2018. Casey’s support for Singh provides
for an orderly succession. Casey has pledged to stay on staff for a
period to lend guidance to the new administration. Casey clearly planned
for this transition, and his planning serves Local 2 well.
But Casey is leaving some problems for Singh and Local 2 to solve.
While Casey has won big gains at the Class A hotels, Local 2 has been
unsuccessful to date in a major organizing drive that has been going on
for several years at LE MERIDIEN and HYATT FISHERMAN’S WHARF. There
are also some big hotels that have been impervious to any organizing
drive, such as the HOTEL NIKKO and the MANDARIN ORIENTAL (now LOEWS
REGENCY). While Class A hotel density has vastly improved since the dark
days of the 1980s, density is still a bit less than it was prior to the
1980 hotel strike.
Few new large, Class A hotels have been built in recent years. What is
getting built are small, boutique hotels, which are gaining increasing
market share in San Francisco. Local 2 has made little effort to
organize new small hotels. Consequently, the Union has been steadily
losing density in this sector of the hotel business. Casey also badly
fumbled a hard-fought, five-year campaign in the small hotel sector at
Hotel Frank, now Hotel G, a campaign that is far from over – more on
Local 2’s medical plan extends to nearly every Local 2 worker in San
Francisco. But the workers in the small hotels do not share equally in
wages, working conditions and pension benefits enjoyed by Class A hotel
workers. The wage differential in particular has been widening over the
years between the Class A hotels and the small hotels.
The justification for this used to be that the small hotels were
family-owned businesses. But today small, boutique hotels are almost all
corporate, many managed by the same international conglomerates that run
the Class A hotels. Many small hotel workers feel like second-class
Local 2 remains practically invisible in the San Francisco’s many
restaurants, despite the long proud history of the servers, bartenders
and cooks unions before the merger. San Francisco is now flooded with
fast food joints, and it is SEIU, not UNITE HERE, that is making news
with the Fight for 15 campaign.
This is not just a matter of failed glory, but of the future as well.
Many hotel workers get their start in restaurants. If these workers
don’t learn about unions there, they don’t carry that history with
them into the hotels. In addition, the non-union scene in the lively
restaurant culture of San Francisco seriously tarnishes the City’s
reputation as a union town.
The vitality of Local 2’s Hiring Hall has suffered as a result of the
loss of the restaurant sector, which used to feed experienced workers
back into the Union houses by the hundreds as needed. The Casey
administration has never understood the negotiating leverage this
represents and has seriously neglected the Hiring Hall.
One thing that has slipped badly under Casey’s administration is the
ability to get timely contracts. Fights almost invariably go on for
years. It has gradually become routine for contracts to be extended a
year, two years, three years, even more. Sometimes when a contract is
settled retroactively, there are only a few months before its expiration
This is partly the result of the breakdown of the old employer
negotiating groups, such as the Hotel Employers Association, requiring
separate negotiations with multiple employers in the same sector. But it
is also the result of Casey’s tight control of negotiations, requiring
his personal leadership in nearly every negotiating session. Strong
leaders sometimes prevent the rise of new leaders, wittingly or
Whatever the cause, working under expired contracts for years on end
means that workers are always playing catch-up, often foregoing raises
for years. This is not something that endears workers to the Union.
What underlies these challenges is the fact that Local 2 is a
classically staff-driven union, despite the hype and the veneer of
democracy. A good and well-placed friend recently asked what criticisms
there might be of the current Local 2 administration. When a lack of
democracy was mentioned, her response was a guffaw and a hearty
“what’s new?” So this shouldn’t shock too many labor activists.
Regular mass mobilizations, demonstrations and picket lines of Latino,
Filipino, Chinese, Asian and Black workers have created a progressive
aura around Local 2. But the difference between the image and reality of
Local 2 democracy is striking, and not lost on many members.
The issue here is not just one of abstract principle. Unions that
cultivate their membership for ideas, initiative and focus build up a
base that moves the organization forward through hard times and good
times. Unions that rely on a handful of smart officials to do all their
thinking and strategizing can miss important opportunities, or can
decay, even go up dead ends. Local 2 has many intelligent and dedicated
members whose contributions are seldom seriously brought into play in
the development of Union policies and strategy.
Regular Local 2 meetings by-and-large disappeared in the mid-1980s.
Instead, business is conducted, such as it is, at general assemblies to
which only handpicked workers are invited. While the Local 2 officials
can mobilize a good crowd to these convocations, these meetings are not
conducted by Roberts Rules of Order, or anything even remotely similar.
They are only staged events, designed to transmit and gain support for
decisions already made by Casey and his close advisors.
There is no Local 2 newspaper. Marc once suggested starting up a Union
newspaper to Casey. The blood drained from his face and the conversation
ended rather abruptly. Indeed, workers really have no idea what is
happening at other workplaces unless they get the canned story from a
staff member assigned to promulgate it. Even that is infrequent at best.
Casey here is playing an old game – divide and conquer. It is not the
stuff that maximizes solidarity.
Contract negotiating committees have the appearance of democracy, but
usually only the appearance. Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s,
when the rank-and-file movement was at its peak, we actually elected our
negotiating committees. Today they are rump assemblies, often too large
to be anything other than an audience for Casey’s show. Sometimes they
are handpicked individual workers. Other times the real negotiations
take place between Casey and the boss with little transparency at all.
Grievance handling (surprise, surprise!) is a big issue with many
members, including Class A hotel workers. Business agents are usually
too busy mobilizing for the latest fight to do justice to most shop
floor beefs, assuming that they are even inclined to do so.
Once upon a time we had elected Shop Stewards. Nowadays, Shop Stewards
are appointed by the administration, and must pass the loyalty test to
be seriously considered. That doesn’t encourage critical thinking and
rank-and-file activity. Increasingly on the shop floor, the Union is
referred to as “them,” not “us.”
The growing penetration of our workplaces by non-Union workers in a
variety of guises, including as a result of lax contract enforcement,
also weakens solidarity and confidence in the leadership.
The watchword of the Local 2 rank-and-file movement in its heyday was a
demand for elected business agents. A bylaw amendment establishing
elected business agents was actually passed at a Union meeting in the
early 1980s, but then quickly vetoed by Hanley. Ask Casey about taking
away his power to hire and fire staff, and you will earn a quick trip to
the woodshed. His administration evaluates staff based on the number of
workers they turn out to meetings and picket lines, not by how well they
How, you might ask, despite all these difficulties, has Casey kept the
Union afloat. The answer is simple. Casey is one smart guy. He works his
tail off, is very capable and largely benevolent. He is not in it for
In our judgment, Casey does have the best interests of the Union at
heart. As one Union brother once put it, he has “honest tendencies.” He
has significant support among the members, and no significant opposition
within his administration. And, last but not least, there are some very
tough members who rise to the challenge and bring the boss to heel at
But the problems Singh will inherit – grievance and contract
enforcement issues, a tradition of expired contracts, falling density in
the small hotels, a thoroughly non-union restaurant sector, and nothing
even resembling real Union democracy – may bedevil him and his
administration, unless he critically evaluates the Casey years and looks
to rectify what needs to change.
HOTEL FRANK: THE NEVER-ENDING STORY
Hotel Frank is a case in point that will test Singh and the new Local 2
We have to say here that we are very personally involved in the Hotel
Frank story. Marc worked there as a bellman for 12 years, before he was
summarily and illegally fired in 2010. The National Labor Relations
Board (NLRB) reinstated him two years later, just before the hotel shut
down and all the workers there were put on the street.
Hotel Frank was a small, boutique hotel downtown, located just a block
off Union Square. It had a union contract for nearly 40 years. Its
location alone meant that it was a goldmine for any rational owner. But
in 2007 an apparently irrational owner bought the hotel, drove it into
bankruptcy and was forced to turn the keys over to WELLS FARGO. The bank
brought in an out-of-town union-busting outfit called PROVENANCE, and
the fight began.
Without going into every twist and turn of this fight, let it be said
that a group of plucky workers at Hotel Frank dragged Local 2 into a
very public and bitter fight. Hotel Frank workers never went on strike,
but they declared a boycott, picketed the hotel for two years in a loud,
sustained and militant way – in a very visible space right off Union
Square – and recruited many supporters, including Jeff, to join the
line. Eventually, Provenance packed up and split town, tails between
their legs. You can read all about it, if you want, here .
Victory? Not even close. On their way out of town, Provenance shut down
the hotel and sold it to new owners. The Union negotiated a severance
package, but not anywhere near enough to carry workers through the 18
months that the hotel remained closed. As part of this deal, Local 2
scrubbed its website of any mention of Hotel Frank. Nevertheless, Casey
proclaimed to all who would listen that the number one demand on the new
owner would be that they hire back the old Hotel Frank workers. We even
believed that he meant it, for a while.
As Casey told Marc, just as Hotel Frank was about to be reborn as Hotel
G, “I am not going to be dragged into a fight that we don’t need.” And
that, my brothers and sisters, meant not fighting to get everybody’s
job back. Casey negotiated a nice little sweetheart deal. The Union got
The back-of-the-house (room cleaners and housemen) got their jobs back.
The front-of-the-house (front desk, bellmen) did not. The workers who
were left on the street got some money, but no job.
Casey got his deal ratified by telling the workers that they would have
to fight on our own if they didn’t take his deal. Casey was clearly
not going to mobilize the Local 2 staff, much less the Union membership,
on their behalf, leaving workers with little choice but to accept what
was offered. And so a bunch of Hotel Frank workers, including many of
the leaders (notably including Marc), got the shaft.
Casey also told Hotel Frank workers that the new owners promised that
there would be a Class A hotel contract in place the day the new Hotel G
opened. The hotel opened a year ago. There is nothing even close to a
Class A contract. There is instead an “interim” contract, one that even
Casey describes as “lousy.”
There is no language about the workload for the room cleaners, one of
the bedrock contract provisions in every other Union hotel. Workers at
Hotel G work 8-and-a-half hours for 8 hours pay; the standard in every
other Union hotel is an 8-hour day. We could go on and on. These are the
very same working conditions that drove Hotel Frank workers into the
fight five years ago.
If Casey or Singh, who was deeply involved in the negotiations with the
Hotel G owners, think that other employers have not noticed how the
Hotel Frank/Hotel G workers are being punished for their militancy, they
have another think coming. A Union that doesn’t protect its leaders is
a Union in trouble.
AN INTERVIEW WITH ANAND SINGH
In preparation for writing this article, Marc conducted an interview
with Anand on Thursday, April 30. Marc and Anand have known each other
for several years, focused on the Hotel Frank/Hotel G struggle. There is
a significant degree of mutual respect, although there is also a
recognition that they see Union matters very differently.
The interview was an on-the-record event, although informed by the many
off-the-record discussions Marc and Anand have had. Marc asked all the
big questions – what priorities do you have for your administration;
how will you deal with the different situations in the different sectors
Local 2 represents in the hospitality industry; how will you seek to
preserve and improve our medical plan, pension, wages and working
conditions; and how do you view the question of Union democracy.
What was remarkable was how little there is to report. Singh said he was
recruited by Casey to run for President, that he was “humbled” by this
choice, that he admired Casey as a mentor and looked to his leadership
as a guide to the future. He says he has asked Casey to stay on staff
for a period, and that Casey has agreed.
Singh knows that Local 2 has big challenges ahead, but doesn’t have
any plans to change the Union’s policies or organizing strategy in any
fundamental way. He sidestepped any issues around falling density among
small hotels, the non-Union restaurant sector, contract enforcement
issues, and the problem of expired contracts. He would not comment on
the record about the Hotel Frank/Hotel G situation, citing “impending
Singh was diplomatic when pressed about questions around Union
democracy, but appeared satisfied by the way Local 2 business is
conducted today. He spoke at length about getting to know Union members
better, and about taking his leadership from the workers. We will see
how much of this is reality, and how much of this is rhetoric.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR LOCAL 2?
Where does this leave Local 2 members, or non-Union hotel, restaurant
and culinary workers looking to improve their lot? It leaves us in the
same trajectory as that of the Casey administration, but with an
untested leader cautiously feeling his way forward.
But the past, as Shakespeare once famously said, is just prologue to the
future. The labor movement faces growing challenges to say the least. An
artillery shell sent on its way by a powerful explosive eventually loses
its force and comes to earth. It may explode or it may be a dud, but it
only goes so far. New shells need to be fired, new weapons created, new
strategies developed, if a war – including the class war – is to be
Singh will have a powerful force at hand – the members of Local 2, as
well as thousands of non-Union hotel, restaurant and culinary workers.
If he can lead in the growth and development of a Union presence that
inspires these workers to struggle for a better life, and if he embraces
a vision of rebuilding the Union movement both within and without Local
2, he has the potential to be a successful leader.
But if Singh merely seeks to replicate current administration policies
and continue business as usual we will likely face the proverbial “times
that try men’s souls.” And, in the context of a labor movement that is
itself in deep crisis in its daily battle with capital, those times
could be very trying indeed.