A Report from HTC President Rich Maroko

HTC President Rich Maroko
Public Area Cleaner Zade Lajci at Resorts World Casino NYC.
Ana Garcia, Room Attendant at the Millennium Broadway canvassing in Newark, NJ

Hotel Voice, Spring 2022

The past few months have shown encouraging signs of recovery in the hospitality industry – 70% of our members are back at work and that number is projected to rise to 85% by the end of the year. While the fact that our industry is improving is certainly welcome news, the harsh reality is that thousands of our members are still on lay off and waiting to be recalled. The hardships of the pandemic are still very real for those members. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. In addition to the projected continuing growth of our industry, three new casino licenses will soon be issued, bringing thousands of new hospitality jobs into New York City.

Our Union has been a strong advocate for approving full-fledged gaming licenses downstate as part of the recovery of the hospitality industry. We spoke to Governor Kathy Hochul and New York state lawmakers about the thousands of high-quality jobs that full casinos would bring to the region, and emphasized the importance of those jobs for those hospitality workers who are still out of work two years into the pandemic. Unlike mobile sports betting, which is done entirely online, the new casinos would employ thousands of workers. Governor Hochul understood the importance of encouraging growth in our hospitality sector and fought to include approval for these licenses in this year’s budget.

In early April, the state approved three new casino licenses and now is in the process of awarding these licenses. Those licenses will ultimately lead to thousands of good paying jobs for our members on layoff. In anticipation of these new casino jobs, the benefit funds approved the creation of a table games dealing training program that, when it becomes operational, will be available to laid off hotel workers. Those who successfully complete the program will be qualified to apply for any positions that open up in the HTC represented New York City metro area existing casinos. As the New York gaming workers union, we will continue to fight to ensure this industry remains an avenue to the middle class for thousands of hospitality workers.

We can make government work for us

The creation of gaming jobs is just one example of how the government, whether federal, state, or local, can have a real impact on our Union and our members’ lives. And that impact can be seen distinctly in the recent past. Over just the last two years our Union has made government work for us by: providing pandemic relief, ensuring long term job protections, and strengthening our ability to fight management and organize new workers.

Throughout the pandemic our Union has worked with government officials at every level to get much needed relief to our members. In March 2021, we worked with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to include six months of fully subsidized COBRA coverage in the American Rescue Plan. The inclusion of free COBRA meant thousands of our members were able to get their healthcare coverage back while on layoff, which played a pivotal role in our ability to reopen the Brooklyn Health Center. Just a few months later, after unemployment benefits ran out for most of our members, our union worked with Governor Hochul to earmark a quarter of a billion dollars for the Tourism Worker Recovery Fund – which paid out much needed relief checks to qualifying unemployed and underemployed tourism workers. At the same time that we were urging Governor Hochul to provide a stimulus benefit to laid off workers, we were also working with the New York City government to incentivize hotels to reopen. We successfully advocated for passage of Local Law 2397-A which required closed hotels with more than 100 rooms to either reopen and recall 25% of workers or pay $500 weekly severance for thirty weeks. All three of these laws came at a time when our members were in dire need, and government came through for them.

In addition to immediate pandemic relief, our Union secured long term job protections in the form of passing new laws. In New York, we successfully passed two critical pieces of legislation that will have the effect of making our industry healthier and increasing union density, both of which will be critical in making sure we will be successful when we sit down to negotiate with the industry at the expiration of our contract. The first piece of legislation requires special permits for hotel development, which will require community input for new hotels and slow the unchecked growth of low-quality hotels. The second piece of legislation tackled the issue of already existing hotels in disuse and disrepair, enabling these hotels to be more easily converted into affordable housing and removed from the market. A key element of this second piece of legislation is that no union represented hotel can be converted over our objection – meaning that our jobs will be protected. By right sizing the number of available rooms, we (1) reduce the likelihood that our members will be laid off and (2) ensure that we will ultimately be in a stronger position at the bargaining table. A third significant win was legislation in New Jersey that made it illegal for hotels to cut daily room cleanings, protecting thousands of our members’ jobs at a time when the industry was taking advantage of the pandemic to permanently reduce labor costs.

And lastly, our Union has worked with government to strengthen our ability to organize and to fight labor disputes. In both New Jersey and New York City, we won consumer protection legislation that required hotels to inform guests of picket lines with the option to refund their stay should a guest choose not to cross a picket line. In early 2020, New Jersey passed a state law requiring hotel developers who receive certain state investments to have labor peace agreements prohibiting labor disputes.

I am asking each and every one of you to think seriously about the political achievements we have won. Recognize that none of these victories would have been possible if we did not build our political power through voting and knocking on doors for Union-endorsed candidates. When you have political power, politicians are willing to sit at the table and listen to you. Without political power, you don’t get a seat at the table. These are the reasons volunteering and voting matter. Over the last fifteen years our Union has expanded our political power and we have seen the fruits of that labor most clearly during the pandemic when our industry was at its weakest but we still managed to get government to work for us.

If we want to continue to see smart policies that help our members and our industry recover, we need to continue working to get politicians who support us elected. The powerful real estate and hotel industries would love to see us weak, but we cannot let that happen. After everything that we have won in the last two years, it should be abundantly clear to all of us how important it is to maintain our political power.

And for that reason it is especially important for us to focus on this year’s upcoming elections. Political power is built through sustained work with elected officials, volunteering by members and voting to elect pro-labor candidates. When we knock on doors for candidates, we are accomplishing two things: first we are helping get out the vote to ensure they get elected, and second, we are showing the candidate how powerful an ally we can be. Volunteering helps get the candidates we need in office but it also reminds those candidates that they could not succeed without our support. At a time when big money seems to rule politics, our Union members can outwork those monied interests by showing up and doing the hard work of actually mobilizing voters. The other aspect of our political power comes from voting as a bloc. When thousands of us vote to elect pro-labor candidates, we can ensure they get elected, particularly in tight races when winners may be decided by a few hundred votes.

Throughout the rest of this year, we will be voting in important elections for the Governor of New York, State Assembly and Senate candidates, and Congressional representatives. Each of these elected offices has the power to impact our members through the legislation and policies they pass.

From now until November, our Union will be knocking on doors and making phone calls to get out the vote for Union-endorsed candidates. To the many of you who have volunteered your time over the years, thank you for working to protect the rights of your Union brothers and sisters. And to those of you who have never volunteered, understand that when we ask you to volunteer your time, we are not asking you to help us, we are really asking you to help yourself.

In Solidarity,

Rich Maroko,

HTC President