HTC negotiates first contract in New Jersey

NYHTC — June 07, 2011

Workers at the Sheraton Mahwah have unanimously ratified their first contract negotiated by the Hotel Trades Council. The ratification vote took place on Friday, April 22, and Saturday, April 23, and the excellent new collective bargaining agreement was approved by a vote of 67 in favor of the contract, and 0 opposed. The agreement will expire on August 23, 2013.

This is the first contract HTC has negotiated with any of the new shops whose workers our union now represents in New Jersey and Upstate New York. It is also an auspicious start to our union's plans to boost contract standards in both regions.

The employees of the Sheraton Mahwah have not had a raise since August 2008. This new contract increases wages by 22% over the 28-month life of the agreement. Non-tipped employees will receive a raise of $1.20 per hour effective upon ratification, 60¢ an hour on August 24, 2011, and 60¢ an hour on August 24, 2012. Tipped employees will get 60¢ per hour effective upon ratification, 30¢ an hour on August 24, 2011, and 30¢ an hour on August 24, 2012. Banquet employees will receive increases to their function pay rates based on the hourly raises for non-tipped employees, and an additional hourly increase of $1.20 upon ratification.

The toughest issue in negotiations was health care. Under the old contract, management claimed it had the right to pass on increases in insurance premiums to the employees, and those premiums were increasing outrageously. The new contract includes a "maintenance of benefits" clause settling that dispute in the workers' favor by clearly requiring the employer to pay for any increases in premiums, including an immediate increase of 109%. Employees will have family coverage without any employee contribution. The new contract also improves the eligibility rules.

The new contract increases the employer's contributions to the employees' pension plan by 167%, funding increases for employees' pension benefits. Employees will also be able to participate in the industry-wide 401K plan available to our members in New York City.

Under the old contract, employees were only entitled to 2 days' notice of a schedule change. The new contract requires that they receive 5 days' notice. The new contract also prohibits (like the Industry-Wide Agreement) scheduling abuses.

Under the old contract, employees received overtime only after working 40 hours per week (as required by law anyway). The new contract entitles them to overtime after 8 hours per day (except those who choose to work a four day week), and on the sixth and seventh consecutive days of work.

Under the old contract, if management decided to send an employee home after requiring him or her to come in to work, the employer only had to pay the employee for 4 hours. Under the new contract "call-in pay" has been increased to 8 hours.

Room attendants won reductions in their room quota for checkouts, cots, and traveling to extra floors. They also won the right to leave early with full pay when they finish their quota. They also won a 50% increase in the extra room rate (from $4 to $6), a 20% increase in the "special cleaning rate" (from $16 to $20), and extra pay for making up cots. The contract also provides that all extra pay items increase 5% per year.

The automatic gratuity for all room service charges, and for parties of 8 or more in the restaurant/bar will be increased from 20% to 22% on August 1.

Besides an excellent economic package, the new contract includes major improvements in employees' rights. A new health and safety provision will enable the union to effectively and quickly address hazards in the workplace. The contract prohibits managers and supervisors from abusing or harassing employees and requires them to treat employees respectfully. New provisions protect employees' privacy, by prohibiting the employer from releasing their personal information to outside parties. Employees now have the right to refuse to comply with any unlawful orders by a manager.

Revamped, much stronger, contract enforcement rights will give union stewards (delegates) and business agents the tools they will need to make management respect the contract, the union and the workers. Cumbersome and unnecessary grievance steps and time limits designed to hamstring and slow down the handling of cases have been eliminated. A new panel of arbitrators experienced in the industry has been designated to eliminate delays in resolving cases. The union's visitation rights have been strengthened. The powers of the arbitrators to remedy contract violations have been increased, including the authority to impose a 15% penalty on employers who willfully cheat employees out of wages. The contract now includes protections like we have in the Industry-Wide Agreement for union delegates. It also enhances the Union's right to information from management to aid in the investigation of grievances.

The new contract also greatly enhances employees' job security. A new "successors and assigns" provision ensures that employees will keep their jobs and that the contract will continue if the hotel changes owners or management companies. Now, overtime and extra rooms are prohibited during a layoff, and managers are no longer permitted to do the work of laid off employees. Another new provision enhances the union's ability to protect the rights of employees if the hotel files for bankruptcy. The rights of immigrant employees have also been greatly improved with new provisions similar to those contained under the Industry-Wide Agreement in New York City. For the first time, employees now have the right to receive severance pay in the event of a closing.

The new contract adds one additional paid sick day, one additional paid holiday, one more week of paid vacation for long-term employees, improved bereavement pay, and for the first time, part-time employees will be entitled to paid days off.

These are only a few of the improvements negotiated in this landmark contract.

Workers were thrilled, and literally amazed, when union representatives explained the terms of the new agreement.

HTC expanded earlier this year into New Jersey and Upstate New York, by becoming the collective bargaining representative for the former members of Locals 96 and 471 of Unite Here.

They were among the hotel workers who were affected by the corrupt schemes of disgraced former Unite Here President Bruce Raynor. Faced with losing the next election, Raynor hatched a plot to split off from Unite Here with a group of his personal cronies and set up a rival organization in the hotel industry, ironically misnamed "Workers United." Raynor forced the New Jersey and Upstate New York hotel workers' locals to merge into Joint Boards controlled by his associates in the textile and garment sector of Unite Here. When Raynor lost the fight with Unite Here, he had to sign an agreement requiring him to cease attempts to represent workers in the hotel industry. That left the members of Local 96 (New Jersey) and Local 471 (Upstate New York), whose unions were now defunct, unrepresented, and HTC agreed to welcome them into our union.

In the long run, expansion into Northern New Jersey and the Capital District of New York State will increase our union's power over the industry, but the union will have to work hard to raise wages and other contract standards for our new members to an acceptable level.