The city of Dallas has secured commitments from investors to buy $479.8 million in bonds to finance construction of the Convention Center hotel, according to The Dallas Morning News. Mayor Tom Leppert says a groundbreaking for the hotel will be held within a few weeks, and construction could be complete by early 2012. So what better time to post this column I wrote recently about the company that will operate the hotel, Irving-based Omni Hotels, and its recent decision to offer domestic partner benefits to employees at the facility. The column was intended for the print edition of Dallas Voice a while back, but got bumped due to a lack of space. Read it after the jump.
By John Wright News Editor
I suppose it’s good news that Omni Hotels, thanks to some nudging from Dallas officials and the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce, has reportedly agreed to offer domestic partner benefits at the city-owned Convention Center hotel.
But one would hope that both the Chamber, which Omni recently joined, and the LGBT community as a whole, will continue pressuring the Irving-based company to adopt gay-friendly employment practices across the board.
One would also hope that in the future, when the Dallas City Council considers major contracts like the one Omni signed in February, the issue of DP benefits becomes part of the discussion. If a potential contractor doesn’t offer DP benefits, it may not be a deal-breaker, but merely asking the question would send a message to those who do business with the city.
It’s doubtful that the city could force contractors to offer DP benefits, given a Texas constitutional amendment prohibiting recognition of same-sex relationships by political subdivisions. But in the case of Omni, the issue of DP benefits was never even discussed until the Voice brought it up in April. This was an unfortunate oversight by city staff, councilmembers and the GLBT Chamber, the latter of which had endorsed the Convention Center hotel.
The GLBT Chamber should be commended for its subsequent work in convincing Omni to join the organization and to offer DP benefits in Dallas. At the same time, though, let’s not forget that Omni Hotels remains one of the few major hotel chains that doesn’t offer DP benefits to employees at all of its properties. According to the company’s Web site, Omni Hotels has 43 luxury hotels in the U.S., Mexico and Canada. To view a list of major hotel chains that offer DP benefits, go to the Human Right’s Campaign’s “Buying for Equality” here.
Because Omni Hotels is privately owned, the company has managed to avoid the scrutiny of groups like HRC. And although Omni has agreed to offer DP benefits in Dallas, as far as we know it still doesn’t offer them at its three other properties in North Texas: the Dallas Hotel at Park West, the Omni Mandalay Hotel at Las Colinas, and the Fort Worth Convention Center Hotel (which it operates). I say “as far as we know” because the company hasn’t been willing to discuss its employment practices with Dallas Voice. In fact, Omni spokeswoman Caryn Kboudi won’t even return the newspaper’s phone calls. The only information we’ve obtained about Omni Hotels has come from city sources who’ve been dealing directly with the company. These sources indicate that Omni Hotels offers DP benefits only where it’s required by law, such as at its three properties in California.
It’s also worth noting that Omni is owned by Robert Rowling of Highland Park, a major Republican donor who’s made campaign contributions to numerous anti-gay lawmakers. While HRC says it has confirmed that Omni Hotels has an employment nondiscrimination policy that includes sexual orientation, it’s doubtful that this policy also includes gender identity. It’s also doubtful that the company has an LGBT employee resource group or offers diversity training on LGBT issues, to name just a few other hallmarks of gay-friendly companies.
Again, Omni’s decision to join the Chamber and to offer DP benefits in Dallas is a start, but it’s only a start. It’s good to know that gays and lesbians who are among the company’s 800 employees at the Convention Center hotel will be able to get health insurance and other benefits for their partners, but what about the company’s thousands of other employees throughout North America?
Until Omni Hotels offers DP benefits everywhere and sheds light on the remainder of its employment practices, LGBT travelers should consider taking the $65 billion they spend annually elsewhere.