By John R, Hendrie, CEO, Hospitality Performance, Inc.
For an industry so labor intensive, it is shocking to see the unpreparedness for an imminent assault by Organized Labor on Hospitality. It is as if the “lights are on, and no one is at home”. From a strategic point of view, Organized Labor has you right where they want you. Complacency and inattention are good!
The AFL-CIO is in the midst of a dramatic and historic struggle for leadership and bold future action plans. The current President of the Federation, John L. Sweeney, is being challenged as the existing change agent, and the most compelling platform concerns how many millions of dollars (up to half the budget) to expend upon union organizing efforts. And, a leading contender for the post is none other than John W. Wilhelm, current President of Unite Here’s Hospitality Division. He is widely recognized for his audacious and far reaching organizing skills.
About a year ago, Unite, which basically brought the textile industry to its knees, and Here, the largest Hospitality union, joined as one, creating a powerful, synergistic entity. As a Hospitality operator, please consider the following:
- targeted businesses: service industries which cannot move offshore
- targeted audience: lower paid employees, normally female, less formal education and a member of a minority or immigrant group
- targeted message: dignity for the disenfranchised, social justice, raising the standard of living
The above targets are quite probably - you! Unite Here, on its own, is debt free and passionately dedicated. Even the Southeast of the US, once the bastion of union free enterprise, is caving – consider Biloxi, MS. With the added heft of the AFL-CIO, no matter the outcome for federation leadership, the Hospitality Industry is at risk!
Savvy legal counsel and consultants know you can pay them now or a great deal more in the midst of a union campaign. With all the development activity we are witnessing and the summer season almost upon us, you must take inventory NOW. There is not a short fix for protection. What must be implemented is a strategic philosophy and different way in which you conduct your affairs, no matter your size or segment of the industry. Organized labor means business, and you must be prepared.
Companies actually invite union activity with poor management practices, and you can learn from the 6 in 10 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. Talk about an organizing opportunity. If you refer back to the targets, you can appreciate your exposure.
The first step is the Assessment Process. “Head in the sand” or arrogance will not work; you must respond. Engage professionals, for you are too close to the situation, and this is not your expertise. When the recommendations are readied and the plan is afoot, you must demonstrate this new cultural approach daily, communicate the values at every opportunity, and display your commitment in person. It will be a different way in which you do business, and, union prompted or not, you can become an enlightened and prosperous employer.
Unite Here is in the news, particularly on the National stage with their contract maneuvering, but “pockets” in the secondary markets are rating coverage, too. All it takes is a laundry operation here and a hotel or a restaurant there to start the targeted campaign. To be candid, there is no guarantee that you shall remain union free, but your preventive action will dilute any eventuality. Your choice!