Hotels and Unions Follow Auto Industry’s Pattern Bargaining

Union contracts between UNITE HERE – the largest union representing hotel workers – and hotels across the country are starting to look very similar.

In 2009, 2010, and 2011 UNITE HERE took a very aggressive, combative approach to negotiations that resulted in strikes, boycotts, and high profile acts of civil disobedience. The union approached hotels individually and put enough pressure on each one that negotiations were so contentious that neither side achieved their objectives.

Those contracts are now expiring. This time around, negotiations centered on health care, job security, and controlling food and beverage costs are peaceful. The union has proven to the hotel industry that it is not afraid of to fight for its membership. And companies are respecting the havoc that a dogged union can create.

As a reward to the unions for playing nice, UNITE HERE is achieving 5-year contracts in many of the country’s largest cities, i.e. San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, and Honolulu. Generally, employers strive for 3 year contracts while unions want 5 year deals. A union wants the security of a long-term deal while employers want the flexibility that comes with a shorter contract.

UNITE HERE knows that these contracts in America’s biggest cities are a big win for the union. The union expects to use these contracts as starting points when negotiating expiring contracts over the next few years in other cities.

Likewise, these contracts are valuable to UNITE HERE’s organizing efforts. They show unorganized workers that a union can achieve 5 year contracts with job security provisions – something extremely valuable to workers after so many years of a down economy. As a result, I expect UNITE HERE to increase its total membership at least 10% over the next few years.

Non-union hotels should take notice of this. Although unionization of fast food workers, janitors, and the auto industry makes the nightly news, UNITE HERE is smartly and strategically staying in the shadows while making significant gains.

Matt Austin is a Columbus, Ohio lawyer who owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm with offices in central and northeast Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. Austin Legal’s Concierge Legal Services program is relied upon by companies to remain compliant and competitive. If you have employees, you need Concierge Legal Services. You can call Matt at (614) 285-5342 or email him at