REPORT FROM THE U.S.—A new rule from the United States’ National Labor Relations Board goes in effect today, truncating the previous 25-day grace period that preceded union elections.
Many in the industry fear the shortened time period, which will allow elections to occur in approximately 20 days as opposed to the previous average of 40 to 45 days, does not grant hoteliers the necessary time to campaign and share information with their employees.
The American Hotel & Lodging Association, which supported failed attempts to block the NRLB rule last week, issued a news alert alleging the so-called “ambush rule” violates original congressional intent when the National Labor Relations Act was first passed.
“That intent was articulated again during the debate of the 1959 amendments to the National Labor Relations Act, then-Senator John F. Kennedy opposed an amendment that failed to provide ‘at least 30 days in which both parties can present their viewpoints’ noting, ‘there should be at least a 30-day interval between the request for an election and the holding of the election,’” the AH&LA said in its alert.
Doug Dreher, president and CEO of Edwards, Washington-based The Hotel Group, which has two union properties in its portfolio of 25 managed and/or owned hotels, also expressed concerns.
Doug Dreher, president and CEO of The Hotel Group
“I just think it’s … not necessarily in the best interests of the associates and the employees,” he said. “You really want to get to the point where management and labor can have a voice and provide associates with all the material facts they need before they make a decision.”
He added the NLRB rule is a case of “government overreach.”
Cause for concern?
Jeff Wade, president and CEO of Anchor Planning Group, a Fredericksburg, Virginia-based consulting firm, said the new rule is “definitely” something hoteliers should worry about.
“It’s going to be very difficult to do a pro-company campaign to get the word out and to get everybody to understand that in such a short time,” he said.
But David Sherwyn, professor of law at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, said it might not be time to start ringing the warning bell just yet.
“For hoteliers it may mean nothing,” he said. “The reason that it may mean nothing is because UNITE HERE … has made it very clear in the past that they will not go to NLRB elections. They don’t do elections. That’s why UNITE HERE does all these corporate campaigns to get employers to agree to card-check neutrality.”
During the past decade, UNITE HERE has focused primarily on corporate campaigns in which they target specific hotel companies for picketing and other demonstrations that disrupt business—potentially for years. The goal is to get hotel companies to grant card-check neutrality, in which unions can form in hotels when the majority (51%) of employees sign a card turning over representation to a union.
Under the more traditional election process, which is impacted by the new NRLB rule, a union must file a petition to the NLRB. Then, the union and the employer have a certain amount of time to state their respective cases, after which an election is held. If the majority (51%) of employees vote in favor of a union, the property then becomes unionized.
Corporate campaigns are more sweeping and impactful because they target large companies that often comprise hundreds of properties. The election route requires an election at one property at time, which is more time-consuming and requires more effort from the unions, Sherwyn said.
“Is UNITE HERE going to change and say, ‘OK, now that the election periods are going to be shorter, now we’re going to go old school and organize to election instead of using other types of leverage.’ There’s no evidence that that’s what they’re going to do,” he said.
Sherwyn advised employers to spend most of their time focusing on card-check neutrality.
“You want to be a good leader, treat employers with respect so that if there is card-check neutrality, employees don’t want a union. That still stands today,” he said.
However, hoteliers also should look for any signs that outside organizing is happening, Sherwyn said.
David Sherwyn, professor of law at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration
Do employees go silent when a supervisor walks by? Are there pieces of paper with a union name in the bathroom garbage can? Are employees who were not friends in the past suddenly talking to each other now? Those are a just a few of the warning signs, he said.
“By the time the hotel hears about it, it’s really too late,” Wade warned.
He advocated a proactive approach in which employers educate employees about unions. That way, the education campaign is not constrained to a shortened 20-day window, he said.
It starts in the orientation process, Wade said. Hoteliers should talk about their views on labor and why unions are not beneficial to employees. They should discuss the costs and benefits associated with unions, and explain how employees are often better off without union representation, he said.
Those discussions should not stop at orientation, Wade said. Employers should hold frequent employee satisfactions surveys and town hall meetings to measure the pulse of their workforce. If problems arise, they should address them immediately, he said.
Hoteliers also have to plan for the worst, Wade said. Even the best-laid plans might not prevent a petition to unionize. Therefore, employers should develop a “campaign in a box” with procedures and verbiage and a plan. If a petition is filed, hoteliers will know exactly what steps need to be taken and by whom within the shortened election window.
“Lastly, don’t assume this isn’t going to happen,” he said. “… This very well could happen to you.”