Key Contractual Protections during COVID-19: Greater Regional Industry Wide Agreement (GRIWA)

This is a summary of a small handful of the contractual protections in our Union’s master contract covering Northern New Jersey, the Capital District of New York State, and the suburbs of New York City, known as the Greater Regional Industry Wide Agreement (or the “GRIWA”).

Health and Safety:

1 Q: Does my employer have to provide me with personal protective equipment (PPE)?

A: According to Article 41, Safety and Health, your employer is required to provide a safe and healthy workplace. It is the employer’s responsibility to provide supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) to employees, at the employer’s expense. These contract rights go much further than what the law requires of employers.

2 Q: If I believe my work assignment is unsafe, what should I do?

A: If the only legal protection you had were the law (for example, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act), you would be risking your job to refuse to perform unsafe work unless you were in extreme imminent danger, and even then, enforcing that right is slow and unreliable. However, our Union contract gives you much stronger legal rights. If you believe your assignment or working conditions are unsafe, you should immediately call your Union Delegate and your Business Agent at (212) 245-8100, option #1. If you can’t reach a Union representative, and are being ordered to perform work that you reasonably believe would endanger your health or safety, you have the right under the contract to refuse. Obviously, it your refusal is later determined not to have been reasonable, you can be disciplined, but management doesn’t have the final say on that question. An impartial arbitrator (who hears both sides in a fair hearing) does.

3 Q: Has the Union negotiated extra protections during the Coronavirus outbreak?

A: Union leadership and staff have been negotiating a Coronavirus-specific health and safety agreement on a hotel by hotel basis. Some of the protections included in that agreement are:

  • The employer is required to put together Public Sanitation teams to disinfect the common areas of the hotel, like elevators and lobbies. The size of these sanitation teams is based on the number of rooms in the hotel. Positions are to be offered to the employees on lay off, based on classification and seniority.
  • The property must be stocked with EPA registered antimicrobial soap and hand sanitizers.
  • Hotel rooms must be sanitized thoroughly. To account for the increase in work to disinfect the rooms well, the room quota has been reduced by roughly 25% for Room Attendants. This measure is intended to keep the guests and staff as safe as possible.
  • Front Desk Employees are to be trained to respond to coronavirus questions from hotel guests.

A list of the hotels that have signed on to the Coronavirus Safety Protocol is included in this article on the union website.

Layoff Protections and Recall Rights:

1 Q: How much notice should I get before a temporary layoff?

A: The Union is closely monitoring layoffs to ensure they are being done properly in accordance with the contract. Under the contract, management is required to submit prior written notice of a layoff. That means that before temporarily laying off any employee management must give the Union 5 days’ written notice.

2 Q: What additional protections kick in during layoffs?

A: The GRIWA has many protections that go into effect to prevent and/or limit management’s ability to cut costs at bargaining unit members’ expense during layoffs. The hours you work not only impact your ability to earn a living, but also contribute towards your healthcare eligibility and pension credits.

  • If there is a layoff or an employee in the affected classification is on reduced-work week, managers cannot perform any bargaining unit member’s work in that classification. If they do, the employees whose contractual rights were violated are entitled to back pay, and, often, additional payments in liquidated damages for the employer’s willful violation of the contract.
  • Management can not schedule any overtime in any classification with laid off employees, and, again, if they do, the employees whose contractual rights were violated are entitled to back pay, and, often, additional payments in liquidated damages for the employer’s willful violation of the contract
  • Management cannot sell extra rooms if Room Attendants are on layoff until available work has been first offered to those laid off employees. Without this protection, management could pay someone slightly more—like an hour or two of overtime—instead of giving the laid off worker a full-day's work. The same obligations regarding back pay and liquidated damages also apply.
  • Management cannot assign any combination jobs if the result is that someone is laid off.
  • Extras employees cannot work when there is a lay-off in the classification. For instance if a Room Attendant is laid off in the evening, an extra Room Attendant can't work in the morning. 

3 Q: Will I be called back to work when the coronavirus pandemic is over?

A: While nobody knows when and how we will return to our normal lives, you can rest assured that you have “recall rights” under the GRIWA. This means that as soon as your work is available again, the hotel must recall you to work in order of seniority - not based on special treatment or favoritism.

4 Q: What if my employer recalls me to work before I feel safe to return?

A: If your employer has signed onto the Coronavirus Safety Protocol, then you have the right to use any of your unused vacation, sick or personal days and any paid holidays remaining in the calendar year towards paid time off for any reason related to the coronavirus crisis, including if you do not feel safe traveling to and returning to work. You are also allowed to take unlimited unpaid time off, and your job will still be there when you are ready to go back. For a list of the hotels that have signed the Protocol, click here.

If your employer has not signed the Protocol agreement and you are recalled to work before you feel comfortable, call your Business Agent at (212) 245-8100 and press option #1.

5 Q: Do I get part-time premium pay if I am called back to work for less than a full work week?

A: Yes, part-time premium pay must be paid to HTC-represented workers who are available for a full work week and whose schedule is reduced to less than a full work week.

Employees scheduled for less than a full work week should be paid an additional $0.55 per hour for non-tipped employees and $0.28 per hour for tipped employees.

6 Q: What happens if I am recalled to work and then management lays me off again?

A: If a worker who was recalled back to work from a layoff is going to be laid off again right away, management must give the Union at least 2 calendar days’ prior written notice of this second layoff. In practical terms, that means that they must either give 2 days notice of the 2nd layoff or offer more work if it falls within that 2 day period when recalling any employee.

There is an exception to this when ten 10% or more of the employees in a classification scheduled to work on the same shift, call out with less than 12 hours notice prior to the shift. If this happens, management only has to give 1 rather than 2 calendar days’ prior written notice of the 2nd layoff when recalling someone to work in order to cover those employees who called out.

7 Q: Why is my delegate with lower seniority still working and I am laid off?
A: Delegates have extra protections under the contract. One of those protections is that delegates are the last workers to be laid off during a layoff (but not during a reduced work week.) The reason for this, is so that the eyes and the ears of the Union are working and able to help enforce the contract during layoffs. There are a number of important provisions in the contract that are triggered during temporary lay-offs and it is absolutely necessary that the rank and file workers who enforce the contract are there and able to do it. We need the delegate there to make sure, for instance, that management is not doing bargaining unit work and that people are called back in order of seniority. We advise the crew of this when we hold advisory delegate referenda.

8 Q: Can I request a delegate vote to get around the contract?
A: Of course not. The Union does not hold delegate referenda votes during lay-offs.

9 Q: What do I do if, someone with lower seniority than me is working and I am laid off?
A: You should speak to your Business Agent if you feel like there is a contract violation. Call (212) 245-8100 and press option #1 to leave a message for your Business Agent.

10 Q: Is there temporary work available?
A: At this time, there are widespread layoffs in the industry and there are very few job opportunities being posted with the Union. If you would be interested in registering for work, please call: (212) 245-8100 and select option #5 to reach the Hiring Enforcement Office. Leave us a message with your full name, the best phone number to reach you at, and the last four digits of your social security number.

Hotel Sales and Closures:

1 Q: What will happen to my job if my hotel is sold or changes management companies?

A: Our Union’s master contracts, including the GRIWA, have the strongest protections anywhere in the event a hotel sells or changes management companies. No hospitality workers in the United States are better protected than HTC-represented workers in these situations.

Article 54 of the GRIWA, Successors and Assigns, requires that if the property is going to continue to operate as a hotel under the new owner or management company, employees keep their positions, union representation, seniority, recall rights, working conditions, pay, and benefits. In other words, the only significant change is who will be signing your paycheck at the end of the week.

In the event the property is going to close for 6 months or more, for instance for renovations, Article 55, Severance Pay, requires the owner to give you and your union-represented co-workers at least 5 days of pay for each year of service you have at the property and an additional 6 months of extended healthcare coverage, and you maintain “recall rights” (i.e., the right to be called back to work in order of seniority when the property re-opens).

Unfortunately, no union contract could require a hotel owner or operator to continue to keep running their business. In the event the owner or buyer plans to convert the property into a new business, like residential housing or office space, the Union leadership is often able to negotiate for additional severance and compensation for you and your coworkers. You also have the right to register with the Hiring Enforcement Office, and you will be able to interview at other Union represented hotels across the area when there are openings.

Paid Time Off:

1 Q: Can I use my vacation, sick, and personal days to earn extra income?

A:If your employer has signed the Coronavirus Safety Protocol, then you have the right to use any of your unused vacation, sick or personal days and any paid holidays remaining in the calendar year towards paid time off for any reason related to the coronavirus crisis. Please be aware that if you use a paid day off, it will affect your unemployment benefits in both New York and New Jersey. You are also allowed to take unlimited unpaid time off, and your job will still be there when you are ready to go back.

Not every employer has agreed to the Coronavirus Safety Protocol, but many have. For a list of hotels that have signed onto the protocol, click here.

For a summary of the paid time off benefits in the GRIWA, read below:

  • Sick/Personal days: A GRIWA-covered worker who has continuously worked at their workplace for at least one year gets 10 sick/personal days per year. For regularly scheduled part-time employees, the number of sick/personal days is prorated to the hours you regularly work. Unused sick/personal days can accumulate from year to year, with 15 being the maximum amount of sick days that can be rolled over to the next year.
  • Vacation days: The amount of paid vacation time you have is based on the number of years you have worked continuously for your employer. Under the GRIWA, vacation is earned as follows.
    • One (1) year but less than five (5) years: 2 weeks of vacation
    • Two (2) years but less than ten (10) years: 3 weeks of vacation
    • Ten (10) years but less than fifteen (15) years: 4 weeks of vacation
    • Fifteen (15) years or more: 5 weeks of vacation
  • Holidays: The GRIWA includes nine (9) paid holidays. You are entitled to all of the paid holidays for the rest of the calendar year, if your hotel has signed onto the Coronavirus Safety Protocol and you have the option to take them in advance. If your hotel has not signed onto the Protocol, you are entitled to be paid for any holidays that fall within 20 days of the date you were laid off (provided you aren’t receiving holiday pay from a second job also covered under a HTC contract.)

Healthcare Benefits:

1 Q: I have been laid off due to the Coronavirus. How long will I have healthcare for?
A:
With the loss of employment, comes the loss of healthcare benefits. So, early on during this crisis, the Union leadership set out to negotiate extended healthcare coverage and ultimately, brought a case to arbitration under the severance provision of the GRIWA. On March 19th, the arbitrator ruled that HTC-Represented workers in shops covered by the GRIWA contract, will have 6 additional months of healthcare if they were laid off due to the Coronavirus.

To read more about that arbitration decision, click here.

For additional questions regarding your healthcare benefits, please refer to the Union’s Q&A on healthcare.