Members Celebrate the GRIWA Ratification

July 1, 2018 3:56 PM

Read The Story Behind the GRIWA.

Members cheering the ratification of the GRIWA.

Not even monsoon-like rains could keep hundreds of members from packing a room at the Newark Hilton Penn Station on April 16 to celebrate the ratification of the new Greater Regional Industry Wide Contract, also known as the GRIWA.

It was a boisterous crowd and everyone was in a celebratory mood.

The meeting was opened by HTC  General Counsel and Executive Vice President Richard Maroko, who explained in the simplest terms what the contract meant.

“This agreement is going to fundamentally and profoundly change what it means to be a hotel worker in New Jersey and the surrounding area,” he said. “With this agreement, the 4,000 HTC members covered by it will finally receive the wages, benefits and voice at work that they richly deserve.”

HTC Vice President George Padilla, far left, General Counsel and Executive Vice President Richard Maroko, center, and HEAT Organizer Tyrone Connell, far right, meeting with members from various hotels at the GRIWA celebration

Maroko said it was worth remembering how the union got to this point. He explained that the Hotel Trades Council assumed jurisdiction in Northern New Jersey, Westchester, Long Island and all the way up to Albany seven years ago, and that at that time there were very few union hotels. He further explained that the contracts at those hotels were substandard, to put it generously, and that they gave management all the power. Maroko added that many of those contracts set wages that were barely above the statutory minimum and provided no real health or retirement benefits.

“Our union decided to try to replicate our successes in New York City on this side of the Hudson,” Maroko said. He explained that to achieve this goal the union first had to obtain a master contract that would level the playing field.

“To do this, we knew we needed to increase our density,” Maroko said. “And we have done exactly that. Over the last seven years we have tripled the number of union hotels in New Jersey. Today, we represent over 60!”

The union’s ability to negotiate a master contract paid huge dividends. The first GRIWA, signed in 2013, included extraordinary terms. The new GRIWA has, among other features, unparalleled protections for immigrants that in effect create sanctuary workplaces. It also has ironclad successorship language so that if a hotel is sold it is bought with the workforce and their union contract. The deal also contains excellent economic benefits for the members. “It has $1 per hour per year wage increases, the same as New York City, which is the richest contract in the country,” Maroko said.

The GRIWA contains standard regional wage rates. “This is the rising tide that lifts all boats for workers,” Maroko said, to rousing cheers from the members present. “For a room attendant here in Newark the hourly rate will rise to over $20 an hour by the end of this contract,” he said. “That should be compared to the average hourly wage for non-union hotel workers in New Jersey, which is, unfortunately, about $11 an hour.”

Maroko reported that GRIWA ratification votes had taken place at 15 different locations over five days and that the deal was approved by members by 98.9%. The Agreement went into effect April 1 and will run for five years.

Maroko saluted the efforts of “the hard-working union staff and courageous hotel workers who had the guts to stick their necks out and demand better for themselves and their co-workers.” He said that together they had created an atmosphere in the region that respects unions, prioritizes workers, protects immigrants and minorities, and values those issues that are important to us like fair wages, equal pay for equal work and affordable health insurance. He thanked New Jersey elected officials who had supported the union and members in their efforts.

“Chief among them is Governor Murphy, who has been a great friend to our union, and a great friend to working people throughout the state,” Maroko said. “He is one of those rare elected officials who does everything he promised to do during the election cycle. We could not have a better ally here in New Jersey than Governor Murphy.” The audience clearly agreed.

Maroko also praised Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, saying he has been fighting for good jobs for Newark residents from the day he was elected. Maroko explained that Mayor Baraka and the Hotel Trades Council have partnered in a program to place Newark residents in good hotel jobs—union hotel jobs. Maroko also thanked other elected officials, many of whom are named in this edition.

Executive Vice President and General Counsel Richard Maroko, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka all spoke to jubilant members at the GRIWA celebration.

Maroko invited Newark Mayor Ras Baraka to address the crowd, and he was received with appreciative applause by the members, many of whom are his constituents. Baraka said: “It’s a great day for HTC!” He told the members that his administration is working hard for hotel development in Newark and to ensure that union hotels are part of that development. “So it is absolutely necessary for us to have a relationship with HTC,” Baraka said. “We want those hotels to not only hire Newark residents but to hire them into good jobs.”

Baraka concluded by saying, “This is the best union contract I have ever seen! It has so many great features, including no discrimination in the workplace and strong protection of immigrants. I’m looking forward to working with and supporting HTC.”

Baraka was followed by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, who received a standing ovation as he was introduced.

Among those who congratulated members on the GRIWA ratification were New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, left, and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.

Governor Murphy thanked HTC President Peter Ward and Maroko for the invitation to attend the GRIWA ratification celebration. “This is as good a resolution to a labor contract as I’ve ever seen,” Murphy said. “This contract shows that like so many other times in our nation’s history and our great state’s history the labor movement is once again showing the way forward for all workers.”

Murphy added that more work was needed on a state level. “Let’s get New Jersey on a path to a $15 minimum wage, make it a state that guarantees equal pay for equal work for women and a state that gives every family the peace of mind of paid sick leave.”

Members from the Hyatt Jersey City celebrating the GRIWA ratification with HTC Assistant General Counsel Amy Bokerman, HTC Grievance Manager Joe Messineo, HTC Assistant General Counsel Alyssa Tramposch and HTC Vice President George Padilla.

The Governor had other ideas in describing the progressive agenda he has in mind for New Jersey. He said the state needs a child and dependent care tax credit to protect working families. He said he wanted to make New Jersey a leader in protecting and expanding voter rights so that every voice is heard, confiding in members that the next day he would be signing into law “the most advanced automatic voting rights anywhere in the U.S.”

Murphy then issued a promise to do everything possible to protect all of New Jersey from efforts in Washington to undercut the Affordable Care Act and to stand up to those in DC who target hard-working immigrant families.

“We cannot let them break up families, deport our neighbors or tell our Dreamers that they can’t get an education. Let’s show them that a state is stronger when it is compassionate, opens the doors of opportunity to all families, and has diverse and safe cities.” 

Murphy concluded to a rousing ovation by saying, “This isn’t about any one of us, it is about all of us. I am so honored to be with you today and I am honored and impressed by your union’s leadership and by each of you.” 

Some of the members present for the celebration added their own thoughts. “I have been a member of HTC for 25 years and I have lived in Newark for 15 years,” said Beverly Stroud. This contract will enable my brothers and sisters in Newark to be able to afford what I have, to buy a home and to educate their children.” Stroud proved her point by proudly adding, “One of my children, a daughter, just graduated Seton Hall as a lawyer!”

Eduardo Bermudez, an employee of the Hyatt Regency Jersey City, said, “The first GRIWA enabled me to buy a home. And this agreement means a lot to me because I will have financial stability for years to come, as well as wage increases every year, health care, a pension and reliable scheduling. It’s an amazing contract.

Members from the Hilton Newark Penn Station Bernard Montgomery, Jenny Rong and Yanirys Perez voted an enthusiastic “yes” on their new contract.

Throughout the room members talked about the GRIWA as a “game changer,” with some veteran New Jersey members saying it contained by far the largest wage increase ever, that it doubles the pension contribution and that it provides a more powerful voice in their day-to-day lives. As Governor Phil Murphy said, it was indeed an historic occasion.

Read The Story Behind the GRIWA.