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Goodwin, Union Seal A Deal

December 6, 2006
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer

The owner of the Goodwin Hotel and its union workers reached a three-year labor agreement Tuesday that clears the way for a multimillion-dollar renovation and the addition of an upscale restaurant at the downtown hotel.

"It really sets the groundwork for a very successful hotel, a boutique hotel in Hartford and an attached union restaurant," said Steve Mathews, the Connecticut director of Unite Here! Local 217. "The plan is to have a very high-end restaurant, and we're excited about that."

The 124-room hotel at Asylum and Hayes streets is likely to remain open during what is planned as a floor-by-floor renovation. It opened in 1989 as the city's most upscale hotel; since then, several other hotels, including the neighboring Hilton, have undergone makeovers, and the Hartford Marriott Downtown opened near the Connecticut Convention Center.

Lawrence R. Gottesdiener - who owns Hartford 21, the new 36-story apartment tower, and who is behind an effort to build a new, National Hockey League-ready arena - bought the hotel from the state's pension fund in the summer of 2005 for $41 million. In early 2006, Gottesdiener said he would turn the Goodwin into the city's premier boutique hotel if he could get a favorable union agreement.

"We have in mind a complete overhaul of the hotel," Gottesdiener said in an interview in January. "All of the rooms, everything you touch, from soup to nuts, all of the common areas."

In that interview, Gottesdiener said he would consider putting between $5 million and $10 million into the hotel for a total rehabilitation. His spokesman, Chuck Coursey, would not commit to a dollar figure Tuesday, but said work would begin sometime in 2007.

The Goodwin's 70 workers approved a three-year deal Tuesday guaranteeing that the hotel's new, white-tablecloth restaurant will be a union shop. It also says that union employees who work 28 hours a week are eligible for full health benefits, officials said.

Those two items were sticking points in negotiations that almost fell apart in mid-November, officials said. On the health benefits, the union wanted employees who worked 20 hours to be eligible; the hotel wanted those who worked 32 hours to be eligible, officials said.

"We were in a position where it was either we were going to have a settlement or we were going to have a labor dispute," Mathews said. "We had a couple of picket lines and we did some leafleting. We turned up at the council meeting and asked for the mayor's assistance."

Perez intervened late last week, contacting the two negotiating teams and asking them to try again, officials said.

The agreement also guarantees that there will be no subcontracting of union work and that the restaurant will be union for three years, and includes what Mathews said was the "best" defined benefit pension contribution for hotel workers in the state.

"This is great news for the hotel staff, great news for the Goodwin and great news for Hartford," Coursey said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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