Kevin's Blog

It's very appropriate that I'm finishing my visits here in New York. Those of you have been here will know that New York is jam packed full of hotels, however unlike any other city I know of 85% of all these hotels are organised. The New York Hotel Trades Council has 30,000 members and they are one of the best organised and focused union organisations I've ever come across. I believe that they have a lot to teach us in London.Let's remember that the hotel brands that recognise and negotiate with the union here are the same hotels that we seek to organise in London ; Hyatt, Hilton etc.But that's where the similarity ends. I've met with sous chefs on 30 dollars (£20)an hour plus benefits and room cleaners on 23 dollars (£15) an hour plus benefits. On top of that every worker I spoke to said that because "their" union was strong they got treated with great respect and all of them held their heads up high at work. Their full time officials said that many general managers were intimidated by the hotel shop stewards. The union negotiated a joint training programme financed by the employers that has its own training facility at which any union member can get training free of charge. At present there are room cleaners training to become certified electricians.
The workforce profile is much like our own. Many of them were proud to say that without "their" union they would not have their present standard of living, their kids wouldn't have gone to university (many of whom are now qualified doctors, solicitors etc), they wouldn't be as healthy as they are and they wouldn't have the security of a decent pension to look forward to. The emphasis by members that it is "their" union is based on their conviction that all that has been achieved (and ferociously defended!) has been because they, the workers wanted it and made it happen. It wasn't easy and they keep vigilant to make sure they don't lose what they've won. They achieved their recent victories by by forming Hotel Employee Action Teams (HEAT) in each hotel. Every hotel then identified HEAT captains who were responsible for maintaining contact and communication with 7-10 members. This way they established a comprehensive network of 2,700 HEAT teams that became the organising tool that won them their latest negotiated victories.
I think that this is a structure that we should consider at our meetings because as we know no one is going to help us, so we have to help ourselves. That means each and every one of us has to make a committment. If not us who? If not now when?