HTC Wins Labor Board Election at Hampton Inn SoHo with 89% of the Vote

NYHTC — December 12, 2016

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Anti-union campaign blows up in owner John Lam’s face

Imagine if, for more than a month, every day, multiple times a day, your boss pestered you, while you were working, to pressure you to vote for the Presidential candidate he supports. Imagine that he told you if you voted the wrong way, he would lay you off. Imagine he made you sit in meetings for hours telling you lies about the candidates and forcing you to watch TV commercials for his candidate. Imagine if he pressured you to sign a paper agreeing not to read anything about or listen to the speeches of the other candidate. Imagine if he interrogated you aggressively and demanded that you rat out any of your co-workers who were thinking about voting for the other candidate. Imagine if he was so condescending and disrespectful that it was completely obvious that he thought you were stupid. What would you do when election day finally came, and you had the chance to vote in a secret ballot election?

“I voted ‘UNION YES,’ ” said Guest Services Agent Ivana Ramsammy, referring to the Government-run union representation election held at the Hampton Inn SoHo Hotel on Watts Street on Friday December 9th. Ivana wasn’t the only Hampton Inn SoHo worker who wanted to send the same message to their bosses. This was the final tally:

Votes for the Union (HTC)31 (89%)
Votes against the Union4 (11%)

Breakfast Attendant Lissy Rodriguez commented after the vote, “We were all disgusted and offended by the sleazy, mean, dishonest, high-pressure campaign management forced us to experience. Some of my co-workers went into it undecided. We didn’t know much about the union, but management’s campaign and the union’s campaign convinced everyone that the union organizers were the good guys and management and the owner were the bad guys.”

“I’m sick and tired of bullies pushing working people around,” said Guest Services Agent Virgilio Rosado. He continued, “It’s our business who we want to vote for, and if they try to pressure us, then they shouldn’t be surprised when they lose.” Room Attendant Jackie Hidalgo had this to say, “Management even had the nerve to lie to us about what the union was telling us. It was so insulting, and stupid, because we knew what the union told us, and they never said what that anti-union consultant clown Keith claimed they said!”

“I’m so excited I can hardly speak!” exclaimed Breakfast Attendant Fernando Muñoz when the last ballot was counted. “This victory belongs to all of us: to my coworkers and me, and to our families. I knew my co-workers have too much intelligence and self-respect to allow management to beat us down. Mr. Lam and his managers should be ashamed of themselves for trying to trick and intimidate the people who make their hotel a success.”

Typical Non-Union Conditions

When workers from the Hampton Inn SoHo first came to HTC to meet with organizers, they described working conditions that are typical of non-union hotels: zero job security, low wages, benefits that cost too much and cover too little, unpredictable hours, abusive scheduling, and rampant favoritism.

Currently, Room Attendants at the hotel make on average just $14 per hour, less than half of the hourly wage guaranteed to union Room Attendants by HTC’s master contract, the Industry-Wide Agreement (“IWA”). 

Room Inspector Juana Arias had this to say: “We break our backs working for poverty wages in this hotel. As the sole supporter of my family, I have to work a second job delivering newspapers just to make it through the end of each week. I barely have time to sleep or spend time with my family.” 

“The last time management gave us a so-called ‘raise,’ ” added Room Attendant Vanessa Acosta, who served as the union’s observer during the election, “most of us got just an additional 25 cents per hour. One of my coworkers got 5 cents! That doesn’t even deserve to be called a raise.” 

Workers who sign on to management’s substandard health insurance pay around $50 per week for single coverage or just over $100 per week for a plan that covers dependents. Muñoz explained that many workers want the option to participate in the industry insurance plan provided by the IWA contract: “I have serious health issues, which means that I work really just to pay my medical bills. Trying to get the care I need on management’s plan has been a nightmare. But I have seen firsthand how extraordinary the union’s insurance plan is. A plan with no weekly premium, no deductible and no copays? That is what my coworkers and I deserve.”

Crazy Anti-Union Campaign

The Hampton Inn SoHo is owned by the notorious hotel entrepreneur John Lam, a modern-day Ebenezer Scrooge. Lam has made his fortune by brutally exploiting his fellow immigrants, paying them poverty wages, way below the normal pay rates in New York City hotels.

John Lam (Owner)

Lam also owns the Sheraton Four Points Chelsea, whose workers first voted to join HTC in 2007. He has spent nearly a decade unsuccessfully challenging in Federal Court the union’s legal right to represent the hotel’s workers. Despite spending millions of dollars on legal fees, he has lost at every stage in court. In November of 2015, a federal judge certified HTC as the collective bargaining representative of Four Points workers and ordered Lam to negotiate with the union. 

“Mr. Lam tried to use the fact that he has been stalling in court at the Four Points to scare us into voting against the union,” said Room Attendant Nana Konadu. “The Four Points workers aren’t paying any union dues because the union doesn’t charge dues until you get a contract that is approved by the majority of the workers. So, the way we see it, the fact that the union has been fighting for the rights of the Four Points workers in court and Mr. Lam has been trying to cheat them is hardly an argument in his favor or against the union.”

In light of Lam’s track record, it was no surprise that—soon after HTC filed for a representation election at the Hampton Inn SoHo—management began an unrelenting and aggressive anti-union campaign. Management hired multiple lawyers and two “labor consultants,” (whitewashed industry speak for paid anti-union liars) Juan “Mundo” Santana, and Keith Peraino, who engineered a four-week long program of brainwashing and harassment. 

“One of the first things management did was to ask us all to sign a paper telling the union not to talk to us or send us any information,” recounts Engineer Mike Serrano. “What unbelievable nerve, trying to control who we could talk to and what we could read!”  Santana and Peraino insulted the intelligence of the workers, and spent their time prowling the floors interrogating workers multiple times a day and reporting back to management.

All told, the full team of managers, lawyers, owners, and consultants held more than 140 individual meetings with workers, as well as 7 different captive audience meetings. Management committed dozens of violations of labor law along the way, from surveilling workers and interrogating them about the source of union support to threatening to deny vacation requests and withhold planned raises.

Management told lie after lie about what union membership means and what would happen if the workers voted in favor of the union. John Lam himself visited the hotel multiple times to put pressure on workers and asserted that union representation would force him to close the hotel, convert it to a shelter, or convert it to condos.

Virtually every day the workers were subjected to threats, and management propaganda, including canned anti-union videos. 

“John Lam thinks we’re so stupid, but we’re not,” continued Konadu. “He may have more money than us, but we have self-respect.”

“Management and the consultants did and said everything the union predicted they would,” laughed Acosta. “Even sometimes word for word.”

The hotel’s anti-union campaign reached a fever pitch in the days before the election. Management posted job listings on its careers website titled, “Temporary Housekeeping Attendant x 22” and “Temporary Front Office Agent x 7” in a shameless attempt to frighten workers into thinking that they were about to be replaced. 

Additionally, workers who management suspected were union supporters received threatening text messages from anonymous phone numbers. Muñoz received messages claiming that he had been paid by the union to help organize the hotel (he hasn’t received a dime in any kind of compensation) that he was “going down,” and that he was “finished.” “If anyone thought this was going to scare me,” Muñoz said, “they were sorely mistaken. The threats and smear campaign only made me stronger and more committed.”

At one point during the campaign, workers received fake texts, also from anonymous numbers purporting to be from the union, announcing that the union was about to call a strike at the hotel. 

“That was another example of how stupid the anti-union campaign was,” explains Rosado. “Nobody believed those texts came from the union.”

Hampton Inn SoHo workers and union staff celebrate their victory

Next Step: Contract Negotiations

Having won a representation election at the hotel, the union will now move to negotiate a contract on the workers’ behalf. During repeated meetings, John Lam and his henchmen threatened that contract negotiations would drag on for years. In one meeting, anti-union consultant Peraino alleged that management’s opening proposal during negotiations would be “zero dollars,” or, at best, a decrease to “minimum wage.”

The workers at the Hampton Inn SoHo are unfazed by these threats, and are fully committed to winning a fair contract. Room Attendant Yanira Monsanto commented: “We deserve a contract that is just as strong as the contract enjoyed by every union hotel worker in New York City. My coworkers and I are ready to do whatever it takes to win that fight.”

HTC Assistant Director of Organizing Arisha Sierra-Blas, who served as the Lead Organizer on the campaign, had this to say: “The workers at the Hampton Inn SoHo are some of the strongest we have organized. I know that they will be committed 100%, whatever it takes, and that our 32,000 members across New York City, Upstate, and New Jersey stand ready to back them up.”

HTC President Peter Ward, in welcoming the workers to the union, added: “If John Lam wants a fight at the Hampton Inn SoHo, that’s exactly what he’s about to get. The Hotel Trades Council will bring the full weight of its resources and power to bear to win that fight, and to back up the workers who, today, bravely voted to end their exploitation.”

Stay tuned here for updates about contract negotiations.