Front Desk

Unions speak louder, faster

You've got to hand it to the brains at Unite Here, the hotel union that plans to stick it to the industry this summer through a series of hard-nosed negotiations and possible strikes in as many as six North American cities.

Late last week, the union (through the New York Hotel Trades Council) agreed to resume talks with the owners of 100 properties in New York City to find an agreement on a new contract. As part of the deal to return to the bargaining table, the union and owners jointly agreed not to talk to the press during the ongoing negotiations. That's a little bit like closing the barn door after the horses escape.

Just a few days earlier, the union released a scientific-sounding study outlining the pain and suffering hotel housekeepers supposedly suffer as part of their jobs. The study, conducted by a group of "occupational medicine experts" obviously in the back pocket of the union, was also presented at a government symposium to give it additional credence. It worked, as newspapers and other media outlets from coast to coast picked up the story. A feeble response by the hotel industry got very little coverage, so all the public will remember in a month or two as the unions do battle with the owners is that hotel workers have tough jobs and aren't justly compensated for them. Public opinion is one of the most powerful weapons in labor negotiations, and Unite Here clearly won this battle.

Perhaps ironically, the current activism among the immigrant community, as demonstrated in yesterdayâ€â„¢s nationwide marches and protests, may work against the unions should a predicted anti-immigrant backlash develop in the country. Perhaps the hotel industry will ultimately win that PR contest.

Either way, the owners in New York City are currently hamstrung from presenting their side of the issues to the public. The sharpies at Unite HERE beat them to it.

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