Table of Contents


Introduction

Working conditions before the first contract

The strike of 1912

The 1937 organizing committee

The Hotel Trades Council signs the first contract

The Story of the First Contract


The Childs restaurant victory in 1937 strengthened the confidence of hotel workers that they too could have a union. Jay Rubin, general director of the Hotel, Restaurant and Cafeteria Employees Organization Committee, holds the agreement just signed by the Childs Company representative as Special Prosecutor Thomas Dewey, later governor, looks on. Miguel Gariga of the Organization Committee is at right. The contract signing took place on September 25, 1937.

A new leadership arose – one that had studied the past and drawn the necessary lessons from it. The new leaders saw clearly that it would take all hotel workers together to win – that the key to victory was unity of all the crafts and all the national groups working in the hotels.

The first step was a united effort by unions in the culinary field. The Food Workers Industrial Union, of which Jay Rubin was a leader, merged with the existing unions of the American Federation of Labor.

In June 1937 these unions set up a committee – the Hotel, Restaurant and Cafeteria Employees Organizing Committee – to carry out a massive organizing drive. The New York Joint Executive Board, representing the Hotel and Restaurant International Union's 11 culinary locals in the area, named Jay Rubin as general director of the campaign. He had played a key role in the unification effort.

 

First demands

As the drive to unionize hotel workers got under way in1937, the organizing committee drew up a list of demands reflecting sentiment in the hotels and published them in Volume 1, Number 1 of a 4-page paper, The Hotel Worker:

  • A general wage increase for everybody in the hotel.
  • The establishment of standard minimum wages, those getting more to get increases just the same.
  • Eight-hour day. No split watch, no revenant (call back).
  • No firing without reason.
  • No fines, fingerprinting, or any other personal intimidation.
  • Recognition of the union as a bargaining agency.
  • No payment for uniform or laundry.
  • Good Food.

Just dreams, some thought at the time. But most of them were made true by the first contract less than two years later. And the rest, and others not even imagined then, were given life by subsequent contracts.

The International Union put up $25,000 to finance the drive and the members of the 11 culinary locals - waiters, waitresses, counterman, dishwashers and others - voluntarily contributed 25 cents a month.

A major success was the organizing and signing up of the Childs chain of 52 restaurants with a total of 3,200 employees. This led to the unionization of many restaurants and cafeterias and marked improvements in working conditions. A strike at Horn and Hardart ended in failure, but this setback did not stem the organizing tide.

Rubin and other leaders then turned to the hotels, setting up a separate Hotel Organizing Committee. By the end of 1937 a few hotels had been organized and accepted the union. In addition, a batch of petitions for certification elections were on file with the State Labor Relations Board, and in every case where the workers had a chance to vote - thanks to laws won under the pressure of countless organizing campaigns - they voted for the union.

Those months saw a two-sided effort. At employee entrances, and in the hotels when they could, dedicated organizers and volunteer workers were spreading the message of unionism, signing up workers by the hundreds.

At the same time the leaders of the drive were engaged in a difficult, determined effort to bring together the various craft unions which had members in the hotel industry.

Culinary workers, building service workers, electricians, engineers, firemen and other groups - there were local unions with jurisdiction over each in the field, and some of them had contracts with this or that hotel. Craft divisions were sharp, and the overcoming of old feelings and the settling of long-standing conflicts and problems took both imagination and patience.

 


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