When Hotel Workers Strike

Group contracts should address the possibility of labor actions

Jonathan T. Howe 2016

Are the hotels you are considering unionized?

 When do their contracts expire? Or are workers already on the job without a contract?

 Has any labor action been threatened in your host city?

 Are any of your attendees and/or suppliers unionized, and thus might not cross a picket line during a strike?

 Are you in touch with constituents about impending actions at your hotel?

In September, members of Unite Here, the union that represents hotel workers around the country, resoundingly voted to strike at various Marriott hotels in Boston, San Francisco and Hawaii, while in Chicago, members of the union's Local 1 went on strike as picket lines were established at various downtown hotels. Several cities as of this writing have had workers walk off the job - click here.

The threat of imminent union activity naturally can cause concern among event organizers as well as attendees. Before choosing a unionized property,  meeting professionals should take a number of important details into consideration.

Not all picket lines are the same. One type is what is called "informational picketing," where the workers are marching to show the public that the venue is not a union house or to call attention to certain alleged inadequate or anti-labor activities at the property.

The other type is a true strike, where the hotel's workers have walked off the job.

Planners should know in advance how attendees might react to a strike. Do you have people coming in who might refuse to cross the picket line out of union solidarity or because they sympathize strongly with the strikers' cause?

Also consider how a strike could affect businesses that supply goods and services for your event. For example, you might rely on unionized truck drivers to deliver exhibit materials or food.

The key is to have open and frequent communication with the venue. Anticipate what could occur, and determine what actions would be put in place if necessary.

Contract language offered by Unite Here requires that the host organization be notified within a certain period of time of any labor disputes involving the hotel or its employees. The clause should require notification of union picketing, the filing of unfair labor practice charges, the expiration of labor contracts, and/or an impending strike or lockout, or any other matter that could reasonably be construed as a labor dispute.

Many agreements also allow for cancellation of the event when a strike has a material impact on the event or venue, with a specific exclusion saying that strikes, except those involving hotel employees, are cause for cancellation without liabilities. The exclusion requires the hotel to perform per the contract, and to meet the standards of the original agreement. If it cannot, the hotel could be in breach of the contract.

During a hotel workers' strike this past September in Chicago, one group ended up moving to a different hotel, at the expense of the original host hotel, with which the client had a long-standing relationship. Switching to another venue, or moving the event to a later date, might be the best solution when labor issues create a difficult situation for your meeting.

Jonathan T. Howe, Esq., is a senior partner of the Chicago and Washington, D.C., law firm of Howe & Hutton Ltd., specializing in meetings and hospitality law. Send your comments or legal questions to [email protected]