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Connecticut Hotel Workers ‘Do Their Own’ Organizing & ‘Beat The Boss’ - One Union’s ‘Member-Centered Model Prepared It For A Fierce’ Anti-Union Campaign ‘That Would Have Broken Many Others’

Published Thursday, May 9, 2019
Connecticut Hotel Workers ‘Do Their Own’ Organizing & ‘Beat The Boss’ - One Union’s ‘Member-Centered Model Prepared It For A Fierce’ Anti-Union Campaign ‘That Would Have Broken Many Others’

(STAMFORD, CONNECTICUT) - UNITE HERE Local 217, which represents 3,000 Workers in hotels and university cafeterias, has been on an organizing sweep through Southern Connecticut, winning Union Elections at the Hyatt in Greenwich in 2015 and the Hilton in Stamford in 2017.

Building off that momentum, Workers at the nearby Stamford Sheraton began to organize.

But unlike many Unions, Local 217 has put its recently organized Workers in the driver’s seat for new Organizing Campaigns and that made all the difference when bosses turned up the heat.

Workers at the Stamford Sheraton were angry about low pay, hours being cut and operating at the whims of managers and consultants.

Joe Hutchins was making just $13 an hour when he started as a Front Desk Agent at the Sheraton, in what he points out is “one of the wealthiest and most expensive areas to live on the East Coast.”

Many of the Workers had been reasonably satisfied with their working conditions until management embarked on a cost-cutting campaign.

Positions were cut and work piled onto the remaining Workers.

For example, the Sheraton eliminated the evening barista in the hotel’s café and Front Desk Agents were expected to perform double duty, without any training.

At the same time, hours were cut across departments and Workers’ insurance plans were changed to ones that were much harder to use.  In fact, Workers had to travel to other towns or all the way to New York City to use their insurance.

Meanwhile, Sheraton Workers took notice of the organizing happening at the other hotels nearby.

“It was hard not to,” says Hutchins. “There’s a lot of cross-pollination - a lot of people work at different hotels.  You get to know a lot of people who work within the industry.”

Through some of these connections, Sheraton Workers started talking Union.

Local 217’s unique model helped.

In most other Unions, Organizing Drives are typically run by teams of Professional Staff, sometimes supplemented by Workers from other workplaces.

If Unions do include existing members in Organizing Drives, they’re often there to add legitimacy to the campaign by accompanying Staff Organizers at house visits, or being present for meetings where they can talk about their Unionized Workplace.

In that model, most of the contact that Non-Union Workers have is with Full-Time Employees of the Union.

Local 217, on the other hand, has spent the past few years changing from this typical Staff-Driven Model to a Member-driven approach based around a robust Leave of Absence (LOA) Program.

The Union has won contract language that gives the Union the right to take any Member off the job without losing seniority.

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