MEMPHIS, Tennessee—Those awaiting a game-changing event that could stall any recovery taking place in the U.S. hotel industry need look no further than 30 April 2012, said Arnold E. Perl, an attorney who specializes in labor issues for Glankler Brown PLLC.
Speaking during the 14th annual Memphis Lodging Industry Update, Perl said significant changes in the election rules and processes for organized labor will be implemented the last day of April. Those changes, adopted by the National Labor Relations Board, will have a lasting effect on the hotel industry, he said.
Arnold E. Perl
“The NLRB is a black-swan event for this industry,” Perl told the 150 attendees of the meeting. “The changes implemented by NLRB will jeopardize teamwork … that will dramatically change your properties.”
The major changes in the process include:
• Speeding up the union election process by shortening the period from the date of filing an election petition to the date of holding the election to between 10 to 20 days from its current median time of 38 days. Perl said the tighter window will hinder hotel operators’ attempts to educate employees about their options.
• Speeding up the election process by eliminating the ability for employers to resolve disputed questions of voter eligibility in a NLRB hearing. Perl said this will have a dramatic effect on determining where supervisors’ allegiances fall and will further muddy the waters because supervisory status already is the most litigated issue at NLRB pre-elections hearings.
• Requiring employees to prominently display a notice notifying employees they have a right to join a union.
Perl quoted dissenting NLRB member Brian E. Hayes who said the decisions “effectively eviscerate an employer’s legitimate opportunity to express its views about collective bargaining.”
“Can you use leaders in your campaign or are they voters?” Perl said. “You need to have a determination (before a vote is scheduled).”
One change that already has taken place allows individual departments of a hotel to be targeted for unionization rather than requiring all employees of the property to be grouped together. This can qualify a unit as few as two people at a hotel to be targeted for unionization.
“You want to be able to prevail and show that there is an overwhelming community of interest that links all of your people so the union can’t get one or two boxes alone,” Perl said.
The decision essentially allows unions to choose their own electorate, according to the attorney.
“That application extends to everybody, including the hospitality industry,” Perl said. “This board decision is inimical to teamwork. The NLRB is going against the grain with this approach. The NLRB has done as much as it could in 2011 to impede job creation by these kinds of changes.”
Perl, who served as the first witness in the NLRB’s hearings on the proposed changes last year, said there are things that hotel operators can do to combat what he termed “ambush elections”:
Plan: Assess employee morale and union vulnerabilities and the development of countermeasures.
Do: Determine supervisory status of employees under the National Labor Relations Act.
Check: Implement a predetermined contingency plan against union organizing.
Act: Craft effective lines of communication to learn employee issues.
“Develop a plan, do it, check the results, make whatever changes need to be made in the process and act,” Perl said. “It is a never-ending cycle.”