What is your occupation? (You don’t need to specify the company if you prefer not to.)
I’m a housekeeping houseman at a Hilton family brand hotel. Housemen maintain the hotels public spaces and support and or assist room attendants.
What union are you a member of?
I’m a member of the Hotel Trade Council (HTC) Local 6
How long have you been a member? How would you characterize your involvement with the union?
I’ve been a member of HTC since November, 1987 – almost 32 years. I started at the Pierre Hotel but my union involvement took off when I started working at the Waldorf Astoria in 1995. The Waldorf seemed like “ground zero” for the union. The Waldorf was the Hilton company’s flagship hotel and the union’s de facto flagship shop. The Waldorf was one of the oldest hotels in the world and arguably the most famous with over 1,700 union members. I became a housekeeping delegate (Shop Steward) in 2002 representing more than 300 room attendants. After the battle for a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in 2006, I was invited to join the union staff as a RFO/RFR – rank and file organizer/representative in 2007. I was an RFO/RFR for five years. I equate it to being drafted into the military and serving your country. So let’s just say that I “served” my union for five years. And I learned a lot.
What do you feel are the major issues your union is focused on right now?
Maintaining density. That is, continuing to organize hotels so that we represent the majority of hotel workers in the city and maintain our influence over the industry.
Growing the union also means building our political power and making sure that the local government supports our communities and concerns.
Condominium conversions – hotels closing and becoming luxury condominiums – is an example of a threat to our union that the union has done a lot to regulate. It must be noted the when a hotel does close – whether it’s for good or for renovations – the union has negotiated the largest severance packages in our 80 plus years history. The average Waldorf severance package was $190,000 for 20 years of service. And the recent announcement of the closing of the Grand Hyatt, members will received 31 days of severance for every year of employment and the average Hyatt member worked 25 years. Plus our union has a “hiring office” exclusively for unemployed members.
What is/has been the attitude of your employer toward the union?
The hotel that I currently work for respects and is somewhat fearful of the union, however every hotel is different. It always depends on the union members because the union and its delegates are only as the strong as the people they represent. The Waldorf was an unbelievably strong shop but not every hotel is the Waldorf. Since the Waldorf closed for renovations last year, many of my former colleagues are finding that out.
Discuss the ways your union has advocated for the interests of its members.
Extending our CBA to 2024 was brilliant and unheard of. There are many other unions working with a weak contract or without a contract. We got ours extended for an additional six years in the middle of a six year contract. And in addition to that, we got 4% raises and more protections than we had in the previous contract. That’s unbelievable! And the way our union keeps growing with the additions of casinos, and hotels in upstate NY and NJ can only benefit all members more because we have middle class wages, job security and even more power at the bargaining table.
Are there issues you feel your union should organize around that are not currently being addressed?
Absolutely. We desperately need delegate training and we need to educate our members on the unique power of being a HTC member and the basics of the CBA. Every hotel has different practices, different room quotas for room attendants and different special pays and side deals. The more educated the members are of their rights, the stronger our members will be. And we must never forget that it is the members of our union – and not the union staff – that are in fact -THE union.
Even though we’re fortunate to have our leadership of strong and passionate leaders, it’s never a good idea to have a whole delegation of “Yes men” that agrees with everything leadership promotes. Just look at the Trump administration. I believe in building consensus, however there is nothing wrong with having diverse opinions and healthy debates.
Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts on an organization that I have been a part of for more than half of my life.