This Week's Hotel Voice


It’s Unanimous! Union Wins City Council Vote to Cut Down on Illegal Hotels

Hotel Voice - August 1, 2018 Share/Save/Bookmark

On Wednesday, July 18, the New York City Council voted unanimously to pass a bill that restricts Airbnb and other short-term home rental services from threatening hotel jobs and reducing affordable housing. These rental services have been competing unfairly against legitimate hotels and the bill will greatly rein in this practice. The City Council’s vote was 45-0. It is a significant victory for our union.

It is expected that Mayor Bill de Blasio will sign the bill, forcing companies like Airbnb and HomeAway to provide data to the city on their hosts. This will crack down on illegal hotels and save innumerable union hotel jobs. It will also stop the drain on affordable housing in the city. Moreover, it will eventually result in an increase in hotel occupancy rates and room rates, a huge benefit to the industry that employs the vast majority of members of our union.

“This legislation will save countless union hotel jobs,” Peter Ward told Hotel Voice. “Our elected leaders clearly chose working families over billion dollar corporations.”

Members who attended the July 18 City Council vote celebrating its outcome.

The legislation is the culmination of a four-year campaign waged by a coalition headed by the union to rein in a rapidly growing $31 billion company whose business model poses a direct threat to hotels, hotel workers, and the city’s dwindling affordable housing stock.

In 2014, Peter Ward recognized the direct threat posed by short-term rental platforms like Airbnb, and the union began to lead an effort to ease this danger by enlisting the assistance of the Hotel Association. The two parties, normally on opposite sides of the bargaining table, joined forces to form a coalition of hotel, labor, housing, community and elected officials. Their concerted efforts to regulate Airbnb have resulted in a slowdown of the platform’s growth in New York City.

Members who attended the July 18 City Council vote celebrating its outcome.

The recent Council bill is projected to drastically shrink the number of illegal Airbnb units in New York City. Prior to this, the coalition led a drive to adequately fund the city’s chief illegal hotel enforcement arm — the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement — and worked to pass state legislation in 2016 banning the online advertisement of illegal hotels.

These goals were achieved through powerful messaging around the negative effects of Airbnb on housing, hotels, and jobs. A large, bipartisan group of elected officials in the New York State Senate and Assembly was organized, and the union was the key backer of City Council Member Corey Johnson’s successful 2017 campaign to become speaker, thereby becoming the second most powerful elected official in the city.

The coalition also waged a sophisticated public relations campaign against Airbnb that included a media campaign featuring over 30 videos that have been widely distributed digitally, via social media, and on TV. These videos covered a wide range of topics, including Airbnb’s negative effects on affordable housing, the company’s offshore tax avoidance schemes, the platform’s issues with African American travelers and hosts being discriminated against.

Airbnb vastly outspent the coalition and waged a multimillion-dollar campaign consisting of TV, digital, and social media ads; a New York State Political Action Committee funded with $10 million; and over $500,000 per year spent on the most prominent lobbyists and consultants in the state.

Despite the fact that the union and its coalition were vastly outspent, significant high profile victories against the company have been achieved, culminating in the passage of the Council bill on July 18.

This is not the only important legislation that the union has won in order to save members’ jobs. As many members will recall, in the early to mid-2000’s owners of numerous major hotels in New York City recognized the boom in the city’s luxury condo market and began implementing plans to convert some or all of their hotel properties into residential condominiums. This included marquee properties such as the Plaza, where the union staged a campaign that saved hundreds of jobs in 2005.

Recognizing the threat to our members’ jobs that condo conversions caused, the union took action. Facing the city’s powerful real estate lobby in 2015 the union successfully championed legislation that greatly limits the as-of-right ability to convert hotel rooms into condominiums. The law applies to all hotels with 150 rooms or more, and specifically prohibits the conversion of more than one fifth of a hotel’s space to other uses.

A key provision of the initial 2015 law was that it would come up for renewal in 2017. The real estate industry, which sued the city and lost following the passage of the 2015 law, came out aggressively against the 2017 renewal, launching a heated lobbying campaign at the legislative and executive levels of city government.

In the face of this opposition, the union fiercely advocated for an extension to the legislation, which it won in May, 2017, when the Council and the mayor passed legislation extending the provision for an additional two years.

“These legislative wins have saved literally thousands of jobs in our union,” Ward said. “Our lobbyists, our political and strategic affairs department and especially our members who took part in so many rallies and hearings all deserve a great amount of credit for their work in making these victories possible. The recent legislation not only preserves thousands of hotel jobs it protects affordable housing, another important element in the fabric of our city. All of us in the Hotel Trades Council should be deeply proud of this effort!”

The legislation is the culmination of a four-year campaign waged by a coalition headed by the union to rein in a rapidly growing $31 billion company whose business model poses a direct threat to hotels, hotel workers, and the city’s dwindling affordable housing stock. Here are some photos from that campaign.