MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- About 1,500 workers at nine major hotels in Minneapolis and Bloomington have gone on strike just as the Twin Cities enters its peak tourism and convention season.
Picket lines went up at the Radisson South Hotel in Bloomington on Friday with plans for the strike to spread in coming days to the eight other hotels. Union officials declined to say which hotel would be picketed next.
Minneapolis hasn't had a major hotel strike since 1980, when about 3,100 workers walked away from jobs at 21 hotels in a dispute over wages and benefits.
Friday's talks ultimately broke down over benefits after hotel negotiators trimmed back a wage offer to increase the benefits package.
''We need to make real wages because they do real work, they need to have real benefits, they need to have a real pension plan,'' said Jaye Rykunyk, negotiator for Local 17 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union.
''What they don't need is for representatives of multimillion dollar owners and corporations to fool around for hours on end and offer them pennies, because that's what they have on the table is pennies,'' she added.
But Michael Colloton, chief negotiator for the hotels, said the hotels did not make a higher wage offer because the union was ''too far up'' on its proposal.
He said management would be hiring replacement workers to keep the hotels operating.
Issues include wages, health insurance and pensions. The workers include cleaners, bell stand attendants, banquet workers, cooks, bartenders and waiters and waitresses.
The union is seeking pay increases of 21 to 46 percent over five years, with the largest amounts going to the lowest-paid workers, whose starting pay is now $8.50 an hour. The union also wants increased pension and health care contributions by employers.
The wage increase proposed by the hotels was trimmed Friday from 18 to 25 percent over five years to 17.5 to 23 percent. Health and pension contributions were increased by 70 percent over five years, Colloton said.
Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton had been acting as an intermediary.
The affected Minneapolis hotels are the Hilton, Regal, Best Western-Normandy, Crowne Plaza Northstar and Marquette. In Bloomington, hotels besides the Radisson South are the Holiday Inn Airport II, the Sheraton Airport and Thunderbird.
The hotels' 3,161 rooms comprise about 10 percent of the total rooms in the Twin Cities area.
The strike comes as the hotels prepare for the Alcoholics Anonymous convention June 29-July 2. More than 50,000 people are expected for the international convention.
It will be the largest convention ever in Minneapolis and rooms have been booked within a 30-mile radius.
Twin Cities hotels are often more than 80 percent occupied during the summer, and Minneapolis has a busy convention calendar for the second half of this month. Hardware Hank dealers filled one wing of the convention center Friday.
Next week, a convention of heating and air conditioning contractors is scheduled to bring 2,500 people to Minneapolis. Another high-profile event, the 2000 NBA Draft, is June 28 in Minneapolis. It will draw approximately 500 people, including sports media from around the country.
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