Labor peace—at a price

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Despite dire predictions of strikes and other labor strife this summer, the hotel industry has so far struck an uneasy peace with its union adversary, Unite Here, and the various locals with which the national union is affiliated. Late last week, the confrontation that was destined to be most vitriolic—in New York City between Hilton and the local union—ended with a wimper rather than a bang.

The six-year deal the two sides agreed to is identical in economic terms to a pact the other union houses in New York signed with the labor group earlier this summer. The main economic agreement calls for annual wage hikes of four percent for three years and 3.5 percent for the remaining three years. It seems to be a very reasonable deal for both sides.

Where Hilton seemed to cave in return for labor peace was in a separate five-year national agreement it made with Unite Here. The deal, which both sides dub "Partnership for Future Growth," seems like a much better deal for the union than for their Hilton employers and the owners of the properties.

According to the agreement, Hilton and the union will "work together toward labor peace" in other cities, whatever that means. Unite Here also recognizes Hilton as a hotel management company of choice—again, a deeper meaning is unclear. The killer provision is a pledge for the two sides to work together "on growth where it makes strategic and economic sense," including the use of check card agreements where appropriate. In other words, Hilton seems to be giving the union carte blanche to organize at those hotels at which it doesn't yet represent workers using the easiest possible organizing tool: the card check, a system in which a union can be recognized once it gets a simple majority of workers to sign a card saying they want representation. No election is needed, and employers get very little opportunity to state their case to the workers why a union isnâ€â„¢t the right thing for them.

Hilton and most of the rest of the industry have carved a bit of labor peace for the next few years. The question remains as to what will be the long-term price tag for that peace.

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