Grid Your Lions, Hospitality, Here Comes The Perfect Storm.
By Ragsdale Hendrie, Hospitality Performance
Saturday, 14th March 2009
And, organized labor is smackin' their lips!

Talk about a confluence of events, which leaves our Industry wide-open for Union organizing activities. 

The timing could be no better. We had some good "Fat Cat" years, but that ride is over.  Businesses are being shuttered.  Employees are being laid off or short shifted.  Services are cut back; traffic is slower and lower. Immigration round-ups loom. We are the Service Sector, and we cannot move our operations offshore.  

Hospitality will have a new look as we ascend, which we will, from this global morass.  Our customers, guests and visitors will be different, as will our employees, those valued ambassadors of our message and Brand.  We sure have done a fine job bringing those folks along with our meaningful pay scales and benefits, tokens of respect, career opportunities and signs of our loyalty.

The major legislative event, which will change our employee perspective and relationship for many years to come, will occur, in some form or fashion, this year in the United States:  The Employee Free Choice Act.  The Card Check proposal without benefit of secret ballot opens the door to massive inroads and the delight of our brethren with UniteHere (and others).  Our old strategies simply will no longer work.  Organizing will take place on a scale we have never seen before.

Circle the wagons, hide the women and children, prepare the boiling oil, call out the National Guard! 

Whoa! We have known about this for quite awhile, but, as usual, we have chosen to manage by crisis rather than some proactive planning.

With the inevitable looming ahead, we do have some opportunity in the transition, as, fortuitously, the leadership of UniteHere is squabbling.  As noted in a New York Times article by Steven Greenhouse (2/7/09), the leadership, Bruce Raynor of the Unite faction and John Wilhelm of the Here contingent are "…engaged in a Civil War".  Raynor took this a step further, "the Union should have a divorce", whereas recently Wlhelm referred to the secessionists as renegade splinter groups. Such marital bliss!

This is all good news for us.  We remember when the two forged together in 2004, now representing over 400,000 employees in apparel, hotel, restaurant, casino and related businesses.  But, as it turns out, the cultures are different, and the two entities (Unite and Here) had more success organizing independently pre-merger. Discord is wonderful; it is our advantage, for the moment.

Now, let's consider the "window" we have and what we must do.

Where does the Union message resonate the best — with the "disenfranchised". Does your Workforce represent the ideal Union profile Target to be organized? 

Look around your business.

  • lower paid employees, often working several jobs
  • primarily female
  • less formally educated
  • a member of a minority or immigrant group
Companies actually invite union activity with poor management practices, and you can learn from the 6 in 10 (a shameful statistic) Hospitality workers who seek new jobs annually. Compensation (base wage/benefits) is always an issue. Poor communication and employee relations add to the mix, as does minimal career opportunity.

For many, it is the lack of respect. With a shrinking trained labor pool, fewer are doing more, and loyalty no longer exists.  Take all this history within the spectre of a recession and the inherent unease, uncertainty, and downright angst. Talk about an organizing opportunity! If you refer back to the targets, you can appreciate your exposure.

What you need to do right now is the following:
  • Review your internal policy and procedures to ensure that they are being administered fairly, consistently and equally.
  • Find a means to do an Employee Relations "check" on your staff, find the areas of discord, meet with your employees, open communications.
  • Consider appropriate training for your staff and your Supervisors/Managers, emphasizing proactive Employee Relations and your rights under the NLRA.
  • Have Legal Counsel/Consultant provide an audit of your business to uncover shortcomings and potential problem areas.
  • Task your Affiliations (Chambers, CVB's, Hospitality Associations) to be on top of issues and prepared to address them for the community at large, emphasizing Workshops, Roundtables, Seminars. Do keep in mind that Meeting Planners will avoid your area and your Businesses with any hint of Labor unrest.
Colleagues, just when you thought you had your hands full and things could not get any worse, guaranteed, you will be challenged by Organized Labor for the foreseeable future.  Their Strategy will go way beyond the usual players and locations, the big cities and major chain operations. 

Second and third tier cities, as well as smaller independent businesses are susceptible.   UniteHere is salivating, even though their leadership is running amok (only short term, folks). 

From their point of view, this confluence of events and promised legislation is simply the major opportunity made ripe for the pluckin'.  Feathers will fly.  As an old Labor hand myself, I remember a UAW rejoinder, "Paybacks are Hell".  The UAW certainly had a good ride and will also need new fields to sow, along with many other unions, looking to expand membership.

If you approach this challenge smartly, you might avoid an organizing drive and/or union recognition.  There are no guarantees.  However, you might also have created a new culture to fully advantage the post economic crisis environment.  Now, that is a good investment.  To generously paraphrase Mr. J.W. Marriott, Jr., "You take good care of your people, and everything else falls into place". 

This is Your Free Choice!

The author believes that Remarkable Hospitality is the portal to the Memorable Experience.  Seek solutions at:  www.hospitalityperformance.com
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