Larry Sillanpa

Duluth has only two union hotels. The Holiday Inn and Radisson are within three blocks of each other on Superior Street. They get a lot of business because they are union but the new owner of the Radisson doesn’t get it. Pickets have had the cylindrical hotel surrounded since Aug. 31.

Carl Kaeding of Bloomington, MN bought the hotel in April 2014 and said he was impressed with the staff and would remodel the 288 room facility that has a revolving restaurant, two bars and many meeting rooms. But when he decided to put new carpeting and wall coverings in the rooms he used his own nonunion labor, which has led to pickets.

“The owners, Kaeding Management, have brought in workers from Texas, Florida, and elsewhere,” said Mike Sundin of Painters Local 106. “That is so unlike the past practices at the Radisson when they did construction work. Our members always have done the work here.”

Many cancellations of guest and meeting rooms in the past weeks finally got Kaeding’s attention and he called Duluth Building & Construction Trades Council President Craig Olson asking for a meeting last Friday.

“It went absolutely no where,” said Olson. “He said he’d use union labor for little sidewalk and tile jobs, which are nothing compared to remodeling all those rooms, which will include electrical work too. The pickets went back up when I walked out of the hotel.”

Sundin said when workers for McGough and Custom Dry Wall, who are working on the Maurices building across 5th Avenue, saw the pickets on the first day they vacated 45 rooms they were renting at the Radisson.

“There’s maybe a year left on the Maurices project for many workers and hats off to them for standing up for our area standards,” Sundin said. “That may be a half million dollars in rooms that emptied.”

Steve Risacher of Carpenters Local 361 said the Maurices contractors should get a tip of the cap too because they allowed their workers to pull out of Radisson rooms on company time. Most went to the Holiday Inn.

The Labor Day weekend was big for the Pride Festival and leaflets were passed out to many in attendance for that four day event.

IBEW Local 31 cancelled a meeting they had planned for almost 400 at the Radisson.

AFSCME Council 5 has their statewide convention in Duluth this fall and has informed the Radisson they will not use the hotel if pickets are still up. That’s hundreds of people too.

Ironworkers Local 512 traditionally has a fall meeting that will be cancelled if pickets are up.

Letter Carriers Local 114 has moved their union meetings out of the Radisson.

With a construction boom in the area construction unions have been having a difficult time finding members to picket during the day but Sundin said community members have come through in a big way.

“We’ve had lots of help from other unions, retired union members, our friends in the DFL, and elected officials to keep the three entrances occupied,” Sundin said. “We welcome and thank anyone who can give us some help.”

Olson created an informational picket so members of Workers United Local 99 can cross and keep their jobs.

While some members work for Keating in housekeeping and other jobs, he has hired Bay Ridge Properties of Wayzata, MN to manage the bars and food service. They have been good, even offering 15% discounts to union members using the JJ Astor restaurant.

“We’re taking the guff but we’re also trying to pressure the owner,” said Peggy Vanderscheuren, a long time WU 99 employee of the Radisson. She said its hard for them to see prospective guests going to non-union hotels in town because of the pickets.

Workers United is about to start negotiations with Kaeding over their contract that expires April 1, 2016.

When he bought the Radisson Kaeding said occupancy hadn’t been as good as it should have and he was going to change that. He also spoke of upgrading the rooms. He may be moving in the wrong direction in both cases.

“When I met with Kaeding we did a little tour,” said Olson. “The work being done on the rooms isn’t anywhere near as good as our members and contractors would do. It’s covering up but walls and floors should be repaired first.”