Front Desk

Unions flex their muscles

In the old days—but not that long ago—labor unions used baseball bat-toting thugs to get recalcitrant employers to come to terms. Today's union honchos—particularly those at hotel union UNITE HERE—are much more likely to think Madison Avenue rather than Louisville Slugger when it comes to fighting for its members. Ironically, perhaps, the results can be more damaging to hotel owners who don't play ball.

Union strategists employ sophisticated media and marketing campaigns to sway their opponents and the public perception of their mission. Case in point involves the 30-month-old strike orchestrated by UNITE HERE against the Congress Hotel in Chicago. The 15,000-member local union recently placed large wall ads at O'Hare Airport to let travelers know that the Congress is under siege by the union. The ads, titled "Visiting Chicago? Don't Be Left in the Dark," quotes a guest at the hotel who didn't know about the strike and found the conditions at the property to be less-than-outstanding. She says in the ad that she wouldnâ€â„¢t have booked a room at the Congress if she had been aware of the strike.

This tactic isn't isolated to Chicago. The hotel union local in New York City recently waged a vigorous media and political campaign that forced the new owner of The Plaza Hotel to scale-back its plans to turn the property into a predominantly condo hotel. The unions have learned the power of the pen and understand that it can be more potent than the power of the baseball bat.

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