Pay Me Now, or Pay Me More Later.
By John R. Hendrie, Principal, Hospitality Performance
Friday, 5th May 2006
A National Law Firm called me last week, seeking permission to use some comments I wrote in an article published last Summer, "Ready for Pluckin".  They were planning a program for Hospitality Management on Preventative Employee Relations and how to prepare and defend unionization attempts in Hotel properties. 

Flattered, I, of course, said yes, and we began to discuss the issues, which are bigger than just Lodgings, for it is about all Hospitality Businesses, as well as Health Care.  It is a pleasure to sing in the same choir, but alarming when you realize that your congregation is missing, checked-out.  Consultants and lawyers are absolutely salivating with the prospects, for it appears that the lights in your rooms are on, but no one is manning the Front Desk.  The inaction and arrogance out there is downright discouraging and shocking!

Little is being written about Hospitality businesses and UniteHere, other than articles which shine an unflattering light on the industry, such as a recent entry in the New York Times on April 21, 2006, "Hotel Rooms get Plusher, adding to Maid's Injuries". 

As soon Employee Relations issues (real or projected) appear in the public domain, we, as an industry have a Public Relations problem, and we are the heavies.  So, we had an Amenities and Bedding War, the victors were the Guests, and the casualties, our employees.  Industry response has been less than satisfactory.

We have a Union Organizing campaign underway, intertwined with a weave of social, economic and political strains.  This is and will be a mighty struggle, but to look at the response to date, we are "out to lunch", MIA.  The Minimum Wage, our banner, our mantra is under fire from many States.  Mandated Health benefits will be required in other States.  And, Immigration!  We have really stepped lightly around that issue, recognizing, but not publicly, that portions of our industry would close. We experience massive turnover, spend little on Training and Development, and treat our people disrespectfully. This is our discouraging history, hidden from the Consumer, but not for long, courtesy of UNITEHere.

They have a message which resonates; it speaks to a potential membership of primarily female, less educated, entry level paid employee, who is an immigrant. The union is very smart and clever with their campaign.  Plus, they are already around us – with our parking lots, our building janitors, our uniform providers and laundries.  What doesn't the Industry understand?  

One might turn to our National and State Associations for guidance.  The AH&LA has a section on the web site for Labor Relations.  Some of their examples/positions are a bit light, such as, when comparing wages for housekeeping in New York City and Phoenix, they make a case, but those positions are still the lowest paid in those cities and states.  Or, 401(k) sounds fine, except I cannot feed my family, and I hold down two jobs.  It might be helpful to have the UNITEHere web site shown, so members could actually read about what the union is up to.

The industry has a bigger problem that Card Check Neutrality, for our slogan seems to be more a refrain from Alfred E. Newman, "What, Me Worry?".  The University of Miami caved this week to their janitors, relying on signed cards rather than a traditional  election.  This was accomplished through the SEIU, a significant partner to our UNITEHere. I shutter. The big boys understand; flags spend millions to remain union free.  The independents do not get it.

So, what to do?  First, start a Public Relations offensive.  We simply have no credibility as a mere respondent.  A superb example is what has happened to Aruba, still in the news, unfavorably, and poorly managed, almost a year after a most unfortunate situation.  Secondly, review your properties, take the pulse, speak with your employees, survey for attitude, identify barriers – people, programs, policies, practices- and, take action.  Thirdly, become educated. Your legal counsel or Hospitality Consultant can provide guidance on an effective program to remain Union free. There are no guarantees, for it appears to me that we have opened many doors to our Labor Brethren, yet you may diminish the impact.

We are in the relationship business.   Who needs a third party to negotiate the parameters of our relationship with our Guest and Patron.  I might add, any initiative will cost money, particularly as you need the expertise. 

But, bottom line, invest now or pay a great deal more later, not only for the Union campaign directed against your property or federation but also for the incredible expense of operating as a Union hotel or Hospitality business.  It is very difficult to dance around that elephant in the room!

The author believes that Remarkable Hospitality is the portal to the Memorable Experience. Review their resources on:  www.hospitalityperformance.com 

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