Aug. 26, 2004 – The employees of the Grand Palace Beach Resort don't have jobs any more, but they have a union.
Newly terminated personnel from the St. Thomas resort voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday — 65 to 1 — to become members of the United Steelworkers of America. A union official said on Wednesday that labor representation will help the unemployed workers in their quest for jobs.
Because the Grand Palace Beach Resort closed its doors on Sunday, the vote was held at the Labor Department headquarters.
"People ask whether or not it is just symbolic," Randolph Allen, Steelworkers international representative, said on Wednesday. "It's really historic. The employees have first preference if the place is sold or if Grand Palace chooses to reopen.
" In that sense, it means that they have an opportunity — that we request from the new owner that they recognize the new union," he said.
If the hotel is sold and the new owners decline that request, Allen said, by federal law the Steelworkers union has the right to hold a new vote on the premises with the new work force.
He also pointed out that although the 66 Grand Palace workers represent only a fraction of the nearly 300 who were eligible to vote, all of the former hotel workers can now become union members.
Actually, 72 votes were cast in Tuesday's election, Allen said, but six ballots were challenged. In order for unionization to be approved, a favorable vote by 50 percent plus one of those voting was needed. "Once the notice is posted and everybody knows there's voting, then they're supposed to go vote," he said.
As union members, Allen said, the former Grand Palace workers have preference in hiring at other hotels on St. Thomas and St. John where employees are represented by the Steelworkers. He said the union's goal is to get as many of the Grand Palace personnel as possible placed with other properties.
"We represent two of the other big hotels," Allen said, referring to Marriott Frenchman's Reef Beach Resort on St. Thomas and Caneel Bay Resort on St. John. If jobs become available at these and other unionized hotels that the Grand Palace staff members are qualified to fill, "we will direct them," he said, "because these places do inform us when they have openings."
The National Labor Relations Board on July 29 granted the Steelworkers the right to hold an election at the Grand Palace. The union had asked on July 1 to be allowed to do so. That was the day after the resort management announced the hotel would close for renovations on Aug. 28, with all employees to be terminated at that time. The NLRB also increased the number of workers to be included in the bargaining unit, ruling that five housekeepers identified by the hotel management as supervisors were not.
On Aug. 13, Grand Palace general manager Luis Entrala Fabregas announced that the hotel would close for good on Aug. 22. Because the date was six days earlier than had previously been stated, the union vote was held after the property closed.
Developed in the mid-1980s, the 290-room hotel was initially a Wyndham property. Later it was taken over by the Stouffer and Renaissance chains; when it was sold last November to Palace Resorts it was still operated as the Renaissance Grand Beach Resort but was under Marriott management. The hotel was one of the four largest in the territory. Frenchman's Reef has 408 guest rooms and suites; Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort has 300 and the Westin St. John Resort has 282.
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